Desert Queen Ranch, Part 2 - Joshua Tree National Park

Visit Date: October 9, 2016

Put the Desert Queen Ranch, aka Keys Ranch, on your list of things to see on your next visit to Joshua Tree National Park. It's a glimpse back in time to a hardier era, and into the mind of one of the area's most notable early-day settlers, Bill Keys. The Ranch is only accessible via Ranger-guided tours, and generally only on the weekends. Check in at any of the visitor centers located at the park entrances to make a reservation. 

I first visited the ranch way back when, as a youngster. I revisited back in January of 2015 for the first time in over forty years. Click HERE for that story. On this particular Sunday, I had some free time so decided to visit the ranch again. Here are some of the highlights.

Walking along the dirt road that leads from the parking area to the ranch, the Ranger pointed out this boulder on the other side of the wash we were walking along. It has a good-sized mortar, which Native Americans would use to grind acorns and other items used in food preparation. Right behind the mortar is a flat rock with a small flat rock atop it, which was also used as a grinding or smashing area.

One of Bill's storage sheds/work shops. He didn't let anything go to waste. Living this far from the nearest town, self-sufficiency was a necessity. It seems like Bill could make or fix just about anything he needed.

Inside the work shop.

The remains of a Joshua Tree corral.

The windmill, and off in the distance the cement wall of one of the many dams Keys built in the area.

The water tower near the work shop. In the foreground, there is a windlass over a hole in the ground. That hole is where Keys dug up the material he would use to make adobe bricks for many of his buildings.

I like taking pictures of windmills.

The stone chimney at the back of the ranch house, with a novel use of a 50-gallon drum at the top.

At the kitchen end of the ranch house, is a small building that was used by the Keys as a store. They sold odds and ends, tools, clothing and food to folks in the neighboring area. The Ranger opened it up for us to step in and take a look. Several of us walked right in, not bothering to look at the ground as we stepped in over the threshold. 

Yup, baby rattlesnake. Which looks like it was digesting a recent meal. We were more careful exiting the building than we were when we entered.

One of the wells on the property.

Bill's go to vehicle during the later years of his life on the ranch. An old Willys Jeep. A close look will reveal that the hard top was welded on at some point over the years.

At some point, Bill needed a table saw. So he made one.

The round building.

Keys never met a vehicle he didn't like. Anything left abandoned in the desert eventually made its way onto his ranch, where it could either be fixed or used for parts. This is the "Back Lot."

What kind of truck is this, you ask?

It's a Mack Truck. Checkout those chains that powered the wheels.

Rural delivery. I think this mail box was originally somewhere pretty distant from the ranch house.

Bill Keys owned and operated the Wall Street Mill several miles distant, but also had this Mexican style Arrastra at the ranch to crush ore.

This old Grumpy Granite Gus watched us as we hiked back down the road to our cars, after the tour was finished. Maybe he's guarding the mining equipment all around him.

Back at the parking area, before climbing into our cars to be lead back out, the Ranger pointed out the Keys family cemetery off in the distance. As that property is still privately owned by the Keys family, visitors are not allowed to approach it. 

Once again, if you have the opportunity to take the Desert Queen/Keys Ranch Tour, I highly recommend it. These photos only give a snapshot of all the interesting things to see. And the tour is Ranger-led, providing a wealth of information about the living conditions, the family members, the items scattered about the ranch. Tours are almost always available on Saturdays, during busier times they are also offered on Sundays. And during holidays, I believe they may be available on other days as well. Check with the Visitor Centers for exact information.

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