In 1960, possibly understanding that he was dying, the now 58-year old Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck elected to embark on a cross-country road trip, along with his wife's old French Poodle Charley, in the back of a camper truck he named Rocinante after Don Quixote's horse. Traveling from Long Island to Connecticut then Maine, he cuts back to Niagara Falls, the Midwest to Chicago, across St Paul to Little Bighorn and Yellowstone, Seattle and down through the Redwoods to his old hometown of Salinas. From there, Steinbeck goes across the Mojave, through Texas, to New Orleans, and finally back through Virginia to New York. Along the way, he encounters new technologies, the prevalence of pop culture, the specter of nuclear Armageddon, racism, natural beauty and ending of Steinbeck's "old" America and its ideals. Published in 1962 immediately before Steinbeck was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, Travels with Charley briefly became a best-seller.
Recent investigations have suggested the Steinbeck was not entirely literal about the incidents discussed in Travels, and many of the interactions and conversations may have been embellished, if not created wholesale. Most Steinbeck scholars agree with that position, but dispute its importance in the book in lieu of presenting Steinbeck's ideas and themes.
National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California