In 1917 Bill Keys was the custodian of the Desert Queen Mine, and when the mine failed, Bill was awarded the mine for back wages. In the same year, he homesteaded 160 acres adjoining the mine site and thus was born the Desert Queen Ranch. Bill would live at the ranch for 52 more years, raising a family in a very remote and desolate area by being almost entirely self-sufficient.
Today we can journey back in time and easily imagine what it was like to live a two day ride from the nearest town in a hostile desert environment. The only access to this magnificently preserved historic site is via ranger-led tours, which are only given three times per week at best. The half-mile walk through the ranch grounds is easy going. From the dammed stream providing water and fish to the collection of rusted vintage automobiles to the ramshackle house and the remnants of the orchard and garden, this ranch is a testament to the ingenuity and hard work that won the west.
Joshua Tree National Monument came into existence in 1936, and Bill Keys had a rocky coexistence with the administration. He finally sold his land to the government in 1963 but stayed on at the ranch until his death in 1969. Joshua Tree National Park was designated in 1994.
Note: Tickets for these tours are in high demand and are only sold the day of the tour on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. People line up before the Oasis Ranger Station opens at 8:30 a.m., and the 25 spaces are often sold out in minutes.