The following is an account of a 600-mile trip taken in 1932 from Los Angeles to Death Valley. It was written on Furnace Creek Inn stationery by my grandmother, Grace Bartlet Kissam Duryee. Sadly, I never knew my grandparents, but Grace and her husband, Harvey Duryee, personified the self-sufficient ideals of the turn of the last century. They moved from New York to Redlands, California in 1898. Soon after, they moved to Los Angeles and got into the real estate boom in turn-of-the-century Southern California.
Harvey found land on the Mojave Desert to his liking, and so he brokered much of the land that today lies under the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale. Of course, real estate salesmen in the frontier days of Southern California were not hampered by truth-in-advertising standards as they are today. A favorite story about my grandfather finds him walking the rails in the Mojave Desert with his business partner on a warm, quiet, moonlit summer night. They each carry sacks filled with oranges. As they approach Joshua trees on either side of the tracks, they impale the oranges on the spines of these stark, desert trees. (I always imagine them laughing whenever I tell the story.) The next day on the train, immigrants fresh from the east coast and Europe listen as Harvey promotes the fertility and potential of the land all around them. He points out of the windows of the plush rail car and earnestly states "…there's so much water here that oranges literally sprout, (as it were), from the cacti’…"
Harvey and Grace also had quite a taste for adventure. In the same box with this journal, I found stacks and bundles of other letters, pictures and postcards from all over the western states, including a trip taken on a steamer from Los Angeles to Hawaii in 1922. They also took a long trip in 1925 through Arizona, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, and from there, up to Alberta and British Columbia. Especially interesting were pictures of their trips from Los Angeles through the Owens Valley to the Sierra Nevada, which they took every summer from 1915 until 1927.
In the early 1920's, the couple purchased a 100-acre ranch in Littlerock, about 20 miles east of Palmdale. They lived on the ranch part of the time and grew peaches there until the 1940's when they retired to Pasadena. The two were in their late 50's or early 60's when they took the following excursion to Death Valley.