Friday, July 3, 2015

Following the Joads: Amarillo to Barstow

The Joads are unarguably one of the most famous families in classic American literature. Author John Steinbeck chronicled their plight as they crossed the country via Route 66 in his classic novel The Grapes of WrathWhen making the 1940 movie version, director John Ford dispatched a second unit to film locations along the Mother Road.  On our recent road trip west, we attempted to document many of these literary and cinematic locations as our journey took us through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.  In this second installment, we are following the Joads from Amarillo, Texas to Barstow, California.
"The land rolled like great stationary groundswells.  Wildorado and Vega and Boise and Glenrio.  That's the end of Texas.  New Mexico and the mountains.  In the far distance, waved up against the sky, the mountains stood.  And the wheels of the cars creaked around, and the engines were hot, and the steam spurted around the radiator caps.  They crawled to the Pecos River, and crossed at Santa Rosa.  And they went on for twenty miles"
Twenty miles west of Santa Rosa, the Wilson's car breaks down.  Tom notes that they are about seventy-five miles east of Albuquerque.  The family settles in a nearby camp (fifty cents for the night) while brothers Al and Tom drive back to Santa Rosa to find a '25 Dodge con-rod in a wrecking yard.
"The Joad family moved slowly westward, up into the mountains of New Mexico, past the pinnacles and pyramids of the upland.  They climbed onto the high country of Arizona, and through a gap they looked down on the painted desert.  A border guard stopped them."
Steinbeck suddenly moves quickly from Santa Rosa all the way to the Arizona border. Interestingly enough, the second unit of the movie production filmed quite a few scenes in these areas.
The crossing of the Pecos River was filmed on location in Santa Rosa, but the truck was mistakenly shown traveling east instead of west.
As noted in our previous post, footage from downtown Albuquerque was substituted for Oklahoma city.
Another sequence (just prior to Grampa's death) showing a Texaco gas station, identified as Martin's Service Station, was filmed in Santa Rosa.
A spectacular sky-filled shot of the truck heading down the highway was filmed west of Albuquerque.

Footage of the Joad truck driving through desert landscapes showing adobe homes and businesses and Native American communities, was filmed in the Laguna Puebla area.  In that same vicinity, the exterior shots were filmed involving the small cafe and truck stop where proprietors Mae and Al sell Pa Joad a loaf of bread.
The movie correctly shows the Hudson crossing from New Mexico into Arizona.  They stop at a state inspection station that corresponds to the current location of the Arizona Welcome Center on I-40.  The movie then uses some of the footage shot in Laguna Pueblo in a montage that represents the crossing of the whole of Arizona.

Steinbeck provided a few more details, but his narration also moved quickly across the state:
"They crawled the slopes, and the low twisted trees covered the slopes.  Holbrook, Joseph City, Winslow.  And then the tall trees began, and the cars spouted steam and labored up the slopes.  And there was Flagstaff, and that was the top of it all.  Down from Flagstaff, over the great plateaus, and the road disappeared in the distance ahead.
"They drove all night, and came to the mountains in the night.  And the crawled the jagged ramparts in the night, and their dim lights flickered on the pale stones walls of the road.  They passed the summit in the dark and came slowly down in the late night, through the shattered stone debris of Oatman; and when daylight came they saw the Colorado river below them.  They drove to Topock, pulled up at the bridge while a guard washed off the windshield sticker . . . The road runs parallel to the river, and it was well into morning when the burning motors came to Needles, where the river run swiftly among the reeds."
In the film, the family arrives at the Colorado River with the principal actors performing before filmed backdrops.  The second unit footage shows the truck crossing the Trails Arch Bridge near Topock.  The bridge was closed in 1948 to automobile traffic, but was subsequently used to carry a natural gas pipeline across the river.  It remains in use for that purpose to this day.
The Joads arrive in Needles, California via some distinct footage of the Hudson driving into the town past Carty's Camp tourist cabins and a Welcome to Needles sign.  Carty's Camp survives in the form of abandoned ruins hidden by trees, brush and other structures.
The male members of the principal cast were transported to a nearby location for a scene which shows them bathing in the Colorado River.  The family then has to cross the Mojave Desert. They make it across the desert and look down upon the land of milk and honey.  Ma Joad informs Tom that Granma had died enroute.  They push their jalopy into Barstow (a backlot set) in search of gasoline and work.

It was in Barstow where we diverted from the Joads' original trajectory and headed south towards Los Angeles.  Stay tuned as we will be publishing additional location or theme-specific posts in the Following the Joads series.