In the high desert country that was to become Joshua Tree National Park, rugged individuals tried their luck at cattle ranching, mining, and homesteading. William F. Keys and his family are particularly representative of the hard work and ingenuity it took to settle and prosper in the Mojave Desert.
Keys was born in Russia, as George Barth, in 1879 and the family moved to Nebraska in 1892. Two years later, when he was fifteen, George left home and found work variously as a miner, a cowboy, and a deputy sheriff. By 1898 he had changed his name to William F. Keys and signed on with the Rough Riders in Prescott, Arizona. Thrown from a horse and hospitalized, Keys missed leaving with the group. Instead he traveled to Death Valley where he became friends and mining partners with Walter Scott, known as "Death Valley Scotty." By 1910, Bill had arrived in the Joshua Tree area and been hired as custodian and assayer of the Desert Queen Mine. Once prosperous, the mine had lost money in recent years. When it finally closed, Bill claimed it and a five-acre mill site for his unpaid wages. In 1917 Keys homesteaded additional acreage adjoining the mill site and this 160 acres became the Desert Queen Ranch. Keys married Frances Mae Lawton the next year. The ranger-led tour of the ranch includes the colorful story of the 60 years Bill and Frances spent working together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location. After years of neglect, the National Park Service, with the help of some dedicated and resourceful volunteers, has restored the ranch much as it was in 1969 when Bill died. The ranch house, school house, store, and workshop still stand; the orchard has been replanted; and the grounds are full of the cars, trucks, mining equipment, and spare parts that are a part of the Desert Queen Ranch story.
Keys Ranch is located in a remote, rocky canyon. Admission to the ranch is restricted to guided walking tours. The tours are a half-mile in length and last 90 minutes. Group size is limited to 25 people.
Tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday from October through May. Weekday tours vary during the season and are listed on the Ranger Program schedule . Cost
The tour costs $5.00 per person aged 12 and over and $2.50 for children 6 to 11. Children under six are admitted free. Golden Age and Golden Access pasport holders pay $2.50. There is also a $10.00 per car entrance fee good for a seven-day visit to the park. Entrance fees are payable at park entrance stations. Reservations
You may book tours up to five months in advance by calling 760-367-5555 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets may also be purchased at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms during normal visitor center hours (8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily). Tours fill quickly and reservations are recommended. Tours will not be reserved until payment is received; credit cards are accepted.
Sturdy walking shoes, drinking water, sunscreen, and a hat will add to your comfort. It is wise to bring a coat with you; the walk can get chilly when the wind blows. Smoking and eating are not allowed during the tour. Camcorders and cameras are permitted but camera tripods are not. (You may inquire about special tours for photographers and other artists.) Food and gas are not available in the park but can be purchased in nearby towns. Picnic areas are located throughout the park. Chemical toilets are located on the ranch property and in nearby campgrounds.
To find the ranch, pass the entrance to Hidden Valley Campground, turn left at the Y-intersection, follow the road approximately two miles to the locked gate. Your guide will meet you there. (See map.)
Please arrive at the ranch gate 15 minutes prior to your tour. Golden Age/Access passports must be presented at check-in.