Sallisaw, Oklahoma
Creative Commons AttributionSallisaw - Credit: Doug Wertman


Oklahoma is the 20th largest state in the US, and takes its name from the Choctaw words Okla humma, meaning red people.  It's part of the Bible Belt, which explains why religion is a common topic in The Grapes of Wrath. 

 Sallisaw is a city in Sequoyah County. Its name is derived from the French 'salaison', meaning salt provisions, as before the city was founded French hunters had salted bison at Sallisaw Creek.

In the 1930s this agricultural town was hit badly by the Dust Bowl, a period of punishing dust storms.  Most of Oklahoma lies on the Great Plains and Interior Highlands of the US, and so is prone to severe weather.  The extensive droughts and high winds of the 1930s led to an economic collapse which forced many of the farmers and sharecroppers out of the state. Over 20 years, Oklahoma lost 6.9% of its population. 


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After World War Two, Sallisaw enjoyed a population recovery as its industry and retail sectors began to flourish, with mining, manufacturing and auto-industries particularly strong.

Today, the population of Sallisaw is nearly four times its 1930s level.  Industry is still a major source of employment but agriculture remains important.

Route 66
Route 66
Creative Commons AttributionRoute 66 - Credit: OliBac, Flickr

 US 66 led from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, passing through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico amd Arizona. In all it covered 8 states, 3 time zones and 2,448 miles.

The idea for a Chicago-California highway was first suggested in Springfield, Missouri; on November 11th 1926 it came into being, joining up a number of existing roads.  Cyrus Avery, an Oklahoma businessman, played a big part in the creation of the highway. He chose the number 66, as he thought it would be memorable.

Route 66
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRoute 66 - Credit: Gabriel Millos

Shortly after its creation, the highway saw a steep increase in its traffic.  The Dust Bowl forced many people west, and the highway provided the quickest route.  Traffic continued into World War 2, with many wartime industries flourishing in California. After the war, the highway was popular with vacationers as it swept through a wide range of landscapes. 

US 66 has been known by a variety of names, but the most famous are probably the 'Main Street of America', the 'Mother Road' and the 'Will Rogers Highway', after 'Oklahoma's favorite son'.


Route 66
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRoute 66 - Credit: Vicente Villamón

During its 60-year lifespan, the road was regularly re-routed and bypassed. From the 1950s it fell into decline, and it was eventually removed from the Highway system in 1985 when the I-40 was deemed a more sensible route.  Some parts of the 66 remain in use but others were completely abandoned.  It's now impossible to drive the route uninterrupted, but you can still visit original parts of the road where historical markers stand.

US 66 has drawn the attention of organisations such as the the World Monuments Fund and National Register of Historic Places.  The road has an important place in American history, and even though it is now defunct it has been immortalized in this novel.

Listen on Spotify: Route 66 performed by Nat King Cole


California Almond Orchard
Creative Commons AttributionCalifornia Almond Orchard - Credit: Suzi Rosenberg

 California is bounded by the Pacific Coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Mojave Desert and Redwood/Douglas fir forests. This diversity of environment continues within the state. 

California holds the highest point in the United States (Mount Whitney) and the lowest (Death Valley). Temperatures range from Mediterranean to subarctic.  45% of the state is forest and 25% is desert. It contains the greatest variety of pine species in the USA, and has some of the oldest trees on the planet. One Bristlecone pine is 4,700 years old.

California has the largest gross state product in the US at $1.8 trillion, yet it also has one of the highest unemployment rates at 9.3%.  It has nearly 500 different cities and towns, most of which are concentrated in three areas: 68% of the population inhabit the Greater Los Angeles Area, the San Fransisco Bay Area and the Riverside-San Bernadino Area.

Originally, California was inhabited by over 70 different groups of Native Americans, but Spanish missionaries began moving into the land in the late 1700s, settling in an area viewed as a remote province of Mexico.  Settlers from the US and Canada began arriving in the early 1800s. They became so numerous that by 1846 they could fight the Mexicans in the Bear Flag Revolt and win.  The Mexican-American War cemented US control of California in 1847.  But the diverse nationality of settlers means that California now has the largest minority population in the states, making up over 57%. 


Central Valley
Creative Commons AttributionCentral Valley - Credit: John Martinez Pavliga

Since 1900 the population has grown from less than one million to 37 million, making it the most populous state in America.  Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway made crossing the desert safer, and events such as the California Gold Rush and the Dust Bowl contributed greatly to the increase in population.


California has proved popular because of its agriculture, and more recently the entertainment and computer industries.  It's one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, and it provides a third of the nation's food.  Most agriculture is based in the Central Valley of California, which is very flat and has a Mediterranean climate ideal for cultivation.