Monday, May 3, 2010

Keys Desert Queen Ranch - Joshua Tree Homestead

On the way out of Joshua Tree on our recent camping trip, we stopped to take the Keys Desert Queen Ranch tour. It's a guided tour of a homestead established by Bill Keys in 1910. Bill lived here with his wife Francis. They had 7 children, 4 survived - 2 died very young and one had an accident at the well when he was 12. Bill lived here until his death in 1969 at the age of 90.

They had several wells and a dam to catch rain water which irrigated a small plot of land with fruit trees and a garden.

That's the dam in the background. I love the fences made with stacked logs. In the desert wood doesn't really rot like it does in other places. The dry air essentially mummifies everything protecting it from decay.

Gravity and hand pumps got the water up to the top of this tank which provided the gravity fed water pressure to the house.

They never had electricity and this is the original refrigerator. It's an external cabinet shrouded with water soaked burlap (at least it was soaked when it was in use). I think this piece of burlap has been there since 1969 when the ranch was occupied. They also had a propane refrigerator that came from the nearby Camp Pendleton Marine base which was once owned by General Patton but was essentially free-cycled to the Keys when Patton shipped out to Africa.

This is the best shot of the interior that I got through the screens. It looks pretty much like our house.

Bill and Frances had multiple irons in the fire when it came to making money. One of the main sources of income was this one stamp ore mill. I think I remember the Ranger saying it was a dollar a ton that he charged to process the gold ore. They also ran what was essentially a bed and breakfast with breakfast and diner included. Bill would also help other homesteaders set up their own places. Later he'd scavenge back whatever he had sold them when they ultimately packed it in and headed for more hospitable settings.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was a story about this truck. Apparently all 4 Keys children who survived to adulthood are still alive. The story goes that about six years ago one of them came back (they all have permanent access rights to the land though it has been donated to the NPS) and got this truck running. The tourists at the ranch at the time got the thrill of being driven around the ranch on the bed of the 1929 Mac truck! When word got back to the guy in charge of the park at the time, I guess he had a conniption and went out and permanently disabled the truck by breaking the suspension and pouring sugar in the tank. Sad but totally cool that the guy who grew up with it got it running again. What an amazing place it must have been to grow up.

After visiting Keys Desert Queen Ranch I was very inspired to keep taking our fledgling urban homestead farther toward independence.

1 comment:

  1. ..and you should be glad you have less harsh circumstances in which to do it. Talk about tenacity!

    Thanks for sharing this, which I really liked and found fascinating. I've been to Joshua Tree, and I missed this.


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