Located in the heart of Joshua Tree National Park, Key’s Ranch (AKA Desert Queen Ranch) is an incredibly well-maintained homestead only accessible via a 90 minute guided tour. It’s one of those spots that I didn’t even know existed in the park and something that I highly recommend you visit if you get the chance. Here is all the information.
- $10 + park entrance fees
- One tour each day, Thurs – Sun. Check dates on their site as they do change and are not offered in certain seasons.
Tickets can only be purchased from the Oasis Visitors Center in 29 Palms. If you want to visit this spot, you will want to get to the center early as they sell out fast, especially on the weekends. I have heard stories of it selling out right when they open at 8:30 AM. When I went, I got there at 10 AM on a Thursday, and there were only three tickets left. Once you get a ticket, you will proceed to the entrance and pay your fee to enter the park and for the ticket cost. You can then explore the park until meeting time 15 minutes before the tour starts.
George Barth was born in the late 1800s and got into mining before joining the traveling road show and working as a stuntman. He was asked to join the Rough Riders but broke his leg and was sidelined from the show. He traveled around and did some mining before he settled in Joshua Tree in 1914 and was in charge of running the ranch. He changed his name to Bill Keys and married in 1918, raising multiple children at the homestead. After his death, the ranch was sold and passed through a few owners before it became part of Joshua Tree National Park in 1970. They started doing tours in 1972.
After meeting at the locked gate 15 minutes before it was time for the tour to start, the ranger let us through the gate, and we all drove to the parking area for the ranch.
The tour began from the parking area, and over the next 90 minutes, we learned the history of the family and homestead as well as walked all over the property, looking in windows and experiencing this unique site.
I will say that it is a tour and you can not go off on your own, so you can’t set up any pictures and must take them as you walk along. Here are some of the highlights from the tour.
This metal building had a lot of old tools and artifacts from the early years of the ranch.
The well, which sits under the windmill, was interesting to see out in the field where they used to grow their food.
The house is the highlight of the ranch tour as it is well maintained and the interior is left primarily as it was when the family moved from the ranch. You can’t go inside, but you can look in the windows.
There’s an old retaining wall reinforced with metal from bed springs outside of the house as well.
The gate that goes around the house is made of Joshua Trees that were cut right here on the property.
In the back is a collection of many old cars and machines that were used on the ranch. They are all in disrepair, but they are cool to see out there.
One of the cars was even used as a makeshift chicken coop to keep the chickens safe from coyotes.
In the 1960s two movies from Walt Disney were filmed here, such as “Wild Burros of the West,” and the building they built to house tools for the movie is still here as well.
After exploring some more, our time at the ranch came to an end. It was a great tour, and it was easy to see why this area is off-limits to the public since there are so many historic artifacts. The sheer amount of stuff here and how well it has been maintained makes it a really unique place to explore in Joshua Tree National Park. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.