Monday, January 30, 2012

A Tour–with a big twist! The Desert Queen Ranch!

So I now have people asking me why I was too busy to blog yesterday… good to see everyone is keeping me in line.  No real big excuse, other than we had a real busy day Sunday.  It was a gorgeous day here, as well as today was.  The weather is simply perfect!  I went out flying the fleet yesterday morning for a couple hours with a big bunch of friends. 

At around 10:30, we left to go up to Joshua Tree National Forest again.  3rd or 4th time this year I think.  Judy was bound and determined to tour the Keys Ranch, and we were lucky enough to get tickets.  You have to pay $5.00 each to go on this tour, and it ended up being 2 hours long, and totally worth the $10.00!

A Park Ranger leads you on this tour, in the restricted area of the Ranch.  It is located inside a box canyon… great for cattle, one way in…one way out!   The big part of this tour is the Story of Bill Keys and his Wife.

Bill was born in 1879, in Nebraska… in or around 1910, he came over to the 29 Palm Area, and the Joshua Tree area.  He worked for a cattle rustler, Jim McHaney, who died after Bill worked for him for 3 years.  Bill put a claim on the Ranch for past wages due, and was awarded it!  He started building a bunch of small buildings for various purposes on the Ranch.

Pictures below is the Ranch home, all made of recycled materials by Bill, as it stands today.

This is the dusty road leading into the ranch, about 3 miles from the main road in the park.


The Ranger did a good job, putting us back in time to the late 1800’s, when Native Indians lived right where we were standing below… there was lots of proof of this,


Over time Bill built this work shop below, and it is still full of spare parts for anything, and all his tools!  Very cool.  For settlers back then, the biggest problem was water… He had 4 wells all dug by hand on the property! 


This old Army Truck below, Bill bought from General Patton!   General Patton had a lot of U.S. Soldiers out in the desert for training!   Bill eventually married Francis Lawton, and they had 7 children!  2 of the children died before 5 days old… and on son was killed on the Ranch when the handle on the well bucket slipped as he was bringing up water from the well, and hit him in the head. 


Bill did a lot of stone work, and you can see a stone wall below, and the tools used to make the stones… he actually built 2 small dams to store water in for the Ranch.


The only item bought brand new for the Ranch was this 1929 washing machine… it operated by a foot pedal, until bill put a small gas motor on it!


The Ranch took it’s name from the Desert Queen Gold Mine, and that is how Bill made money.  He had machinery to process ore on the property… the only machines in the area, so anyone digging for gold, had to come to this Ranch and get Bill to process the ore, which eventually got sent up to San Francisco for sale.


They had to go 18 miles one way to get the mail, and below is the original mail box they used… it had a date on it from 1921!


Even his favourite vehicle, this old Willy’s Jeep is still on the property.  What a spot!

File:Desert Queen Ranch - Willy's Jeep.jpg

Bill and his Wife both died in the late 1960’s, still living on the Ranch, and are buried there.  The Ranch was taken over by the National Parks Dept. of the U.S. Gov.t, but 1/10 of an acre containing the graveyard is still owned by the Family.  The 3 dead children are also in the graveyard.  THEN THE TWIST!

As we are walking out of the Ranch back to our vehicles, I was talking with the Ranger.  She sees 4 people walking in towards us on the road…  She cannot believe this, as this area is closed to the public, and the gate was locked behind us.  She yells at them to ask them who they are and what are they doing there…

The answer, was that this was Virginal Keys!  She is Bill’s Daughter, and was coming in with her Family to tour the old homestead that afternoon!  We got to meet her, and her Daughter, and Grandson.  It seemed to me that History just jumped off the page at us!  We all got to talk to her for about 10 minutes, before they carried on walking up to the Ranch.  Our Park Ranger was in disbelief!  The daughter is 94 years of age, and is in great shape!


Today was another wonderful weather day here, and Judy was off swimming, while I was flying the fleet again on the field! 

One item of note is that today is our little Emmie's 4th birthday!  We had a great skype call with her and the family while she opened a bunch of presents!

Below Emmie is blowing out candles on her cake…

Video call snapshot 80

She loves opening presents while sister Paige keeps an eye on things.

Video call snapshot 87

We had a great call, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY EMMIE!

till tomorrow…


  1. What a great tour. And to meet the family is the icing on the cake. Happy Birthday Emmie.

  2. I loved this post. What a great tour and then to meet some of the family, it doesn't get much better than that. Great pictures. This is definitely someplace I want to visit.

    Happy birthday Emmie.

  3. Happy Birthday to Emmie!!!! What a great day you had..fantastic the washing machine

  4. Happy Birthday, Emmie!!

    What a great tour - thanks for the history lesson of the Keys Ranch. First, I've heard about it. I guess we'll have to check that out next time we go to Joshua Tree.

  5. What a well-worth tour. Now noted on our 'to do' list.

    Happy birthday, Emmie.

  6. Great tip guys. I'll be sure to take the tour when I'm down there in May.

  7. We are putting this on our Pinterest for our next trip! The history is marvelous!