A preserved Old West ranch portrays a pioneer family’s life, the Keys Ranch and Desert Queen Mine. In the high desert country that was to become Joshua Tree National Park, rugged individuals tried their luck at cattle ranching, mining, and homesteading. The story of William F. Keys and his family is particularly representative of the hard work and ingenuity it took to settle and prosper in the Mojave Desert.
To most people, life in the desert seems harsh and desolate, but to rancher and miner William F. Keys, it was home for nearly 60 years. Bill Keys was hired to run the Desert Queen Mine in the early 1900’s, but when it closed in 1917, he stayed in Joshua Tree until his death in 1969, homesteading on a patch of land that he called the Desert Queen Ranch.
Keys owned at least 30 mining claims, where he dug for gold and gypsum. He also operated a stamp mill and crushed ore for other miners in the area. In this remote and rocky canyon, he and his wife Frances brought up five children and built a ranch house, schoolhouse, workshop, and store. They raised goats, chickens, and cattle and grew a fruit orchard and vegetable garden. They dug deep wells for water, built windmills, and dammed up the rocky canyons surrounding the ranch to create a lake. They were—in a word—pioneers.
The ranger-guided tour of the ranch includes the colorful story of the 60 years Bill and Frances spent working together to make a life in this remote location. 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.
Tickets are required and must be purchased in person on the day of the tour. Buy tickets at the Oasis Visitor Center in Twenty Nine Palms starting at 8:30 am. Keys Ranch tours cost $10 per person aged 12 and over and $5 for children 6 to 11. Children under six are admitted free. Senior and Access Pass (Golden Age and Golden Access passport) holders pay $5. Please note: We run out of tickets for this tour every day it is offered. Be flexible with your plans and know even if you arrive early the tickets may all be gone. We are working to improve the ticketing system. 760.367.5500
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.