Keys Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park

The Keys Ranch is the prime example of early settlement in the Joshua Tree National Park area. Bill Keys was the area's leading character, and his ranch is a symbol of the resourcefulness of early settlers. The ranch is an extensive complex of small frame buildings built between 1910 and Keys' death in 1969. Keys pursued both ranching and mining to make a living in the desert.
William F. Keys was born at Palisade, Nebraska, in 1879. After working as a ranch hand and smelter worker, he was a deputy sheriff in Mohave County, Arizona. During a time in Death Valley, he befriended Death Valley Scotty, becoming involved in a swindle that resulted in the so-called "Battle of Wingate Pass". He arrived in the Twentynine Palms, California area in 1910. In the area that became Joshua Tree National Park, he became acquainted with local outlaw and cattle rustler Jim McHaney, taking care of him in declining health. Keys eventually took over McHaney's properties after McHaney's death, gradually expanding what became the Desert Queen, its name borrowed from the nearby Desert Queen Mine.
Keys married Francis M. Lawton in 1918, and they had seven children together, three of whom died and were buried at the ranch. During a dispute over the Wall Street Mill, Keys shot and killed Worth Bagley. Keys was convicted of murder and went to San Quentin Prison, where Keys educated himself in the library. Keys was paroled in 1950 and was pardoned in 1956 through the efforts of Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason novels.
Mining equipment at the ranch includes an arrastra and a stamp mill for ore processing. Other buildings include an adobe barn, a schoolhouse, a tack shed, machine shed, cemetery and a variety of houses and cabins.


Park rangers provide guided walking tours of the ranch from October through May. Tours are limited in size and should be booked in advance.
Make Keys Ranch part of your personalized Joshua Tree National Park itinerary using our Joshua Tree National Park tour builder.
Source
Create an itinerary including Keys Ranch
map
© OpenMapTiles © OpenStreetMap contributors
Keys Ranch Reviews
Rate this attraction
TripAdvisor Traveler Rating
TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
41 reviews
Google
4.7
TripAdvisor
  • We were lucky enough to reserve this Ranger led tour ahead of time (minimal fee) and it was so interesting and rich. You learn so much history of the area and of the lifestyle of the Keyes family...  more »
  • Our guide Emily is very good and knowledgeable. She makes it fun to be on the tour. You will see all the ‘Precious’ junk laid down on the yard and understand how the many settlers live their life...  more »
Google
  • Love this place! It's so desolate and interesting. You feel like you have stepped into the past. I can see why Mr. Keys wanted to have a ranch here! It's worth the visit.
  • Unique and informative tour that is not accessible without reservations.

Plan your trip to Joshua Tree National Park

  • Get a personalized plan

    A complete day-by-day itinerary
    based on your preferences
  • Customize it

    Refine your plan. We'll find the
    best routes and schedules
  • Manage it

    Everything in one place.
    Everyone on the same page.

Nature in Joshua Tree National Park

4.2
Duration:2 h
5.0
Duration:2 h
4.6
Duration:2 h
4.3
Duration:2 h

Trails in Joshua Tree National Park

4.7
Duration:2 h
4.5
Duration:2 h
4.6
Duration:2 h
4.3
Duration:1 h 30 min

Hidden gems in Joshua Tree National Park

4.5
Duration:2 h
4.6
Duration:2 h
4.6
Duration:2 h
5.0
Duration:2 h

Side trips from Joshua Tree National Park

4.5
Duration:1 h 30 min
4.8
Duration:2 h
4.7
Duration:2 h

Nearby attractions in Joshua Tree National Park

4.4
Duration:2 h
4.9
Duration:2 h
4.9
Duration:4 h