Travels With Steinbeck



Don’t Mess with Texans (they might secede).

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

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View from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico.

Steinbeck’s route: Steinbeck briefly drove on new I-40 in 1960. There was only one short stretch completed in the entire country in 1959 and that was in east central New Mexico near Santa Rosa. For the most part, he followed Route 66 to Amarillo, Texas where he spent several days getting Rociante’s broken window fixed. From Amarillo he must have taken U.S. 87 to Lubbock, Texas and U.S. 84 to Sweetwater, Texas.

The Landscape: Whereas flat terrain covered with brown grasses stretching to distant juniper and pinion-covered buttes seemed wrong for eastern New Mexico, it seemed right for Texas. Perhaps that’s because Western Texas doesn’t make pretenses about being anything else but cow and horse country. I read of one western Texas panhandle ranch that encompassed 3,000,000 acres in 1885. We camped at Palo Duro State Park near the town of Canyon south of Amarillo. It was a rugged canyon with several tree-dotted tiers leading down to a cottonwood-lined Red River—a welcome break from the relatively monotonous ranch and farm country surrounding.  South of Amarillo was for the most part, more of the same with the occasional high promontory or low riparian area. There was so much cotton lining the roads that my mud flats are now adorned with a row of cotton tassels. The sky has been clear, the winds mild and the temperatures, though cold at night, in the 70s during the day. “I like the flavor of Texas, but I wouldn’t want to live here. I might not fit in.” Jeanne Zeigler.

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Here I am with a pumpkin on Halloween. Conran, a member of the Pumpkin Clan of Acoma Pueblo.

The Steinbeck Connection: “I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion.” Travels with Charley.

Steinbeck arrived at Amarillo with a broken windshield. I pulled in with a broken hitch.  I have an appointment to have the hitch fixed in Austin, Texas and we are driving (nice to say “we,” for three days I have a second driver for the only time on this trip) with extreme caution.

Steinbeck’s description of Texas in Travels with Charley is memorable. His wife Elaine had a deep Texas connection and Steinbeck obviously knew the state well. He treated it with respect and good humor. He joked about the Lone Star State’s right to secede at will and how Texans love to threaten to do so, but are offended at the slightest suggestion that they should. Gayle, the reference librarian at the Main Branch of the Amarillo Public Library laughed when I read her that passage and said that it is still true today. We found no media evidence of Steinbeck’s extended stay in the area in 1960, including having Thanksgiving at the nearby ranch of a “friend.”  Steinbeck was very successful maintaining his desired anonymity in the Amarillo area.

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Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas

The Dog: Let me begin by saying no animals were hurt in the following events. Max had a weird day yesterday—he fell out of the car at a gas station but I broke his fall and he was fine.  Last night I had my first fire of the trip and as I was handing Max’s leash to my sister, he walked right into the fire, slightly singeing his beautiful white coat on the side before we could retrieve him. He was not hurt a bit but did smell a little smoky. Jeanne, a former blond herself, pronounced him the “blonde” of the dog set.

Sweet Notes: Thank you, Sis for riding along through much of Texas. Hello to the Buchmeiers, my first German family to jump aboard. Thank you Gayle and Robyn for your sweet support at the Amarillo Main Library reference desk and for riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

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Big Texan dude.

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

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