One of the great things about Airstream Caravans is that the Caravan leaders plan the route and find all types of things to do along the route. Some of them are included in the cost of the caravan and some are suggestions of things to do on free days. It makes for a very interesting trip without much planning on the caravanners part.
Our first excursion was a ranger guided tour of the Keys Ranch at Joshua Tree. We carpooled to the park crossing miles of desert with piles of rocks. Once in the park we drove approximately 10 miles to the locked gate of the Ranch where we were met by a park ranger who opened the gate and let us in. She escorted us to a parking area near the ranch. We walked about a half mile to the ranch where she began the tour.
The Keys Ranch, also known as the Desert Queen Ranch, was the home of Bill and Frances Keys and their children. Keys started out as a caretaker for the Desert Queen Mine around 1910. In 1915, the absent landowner, William Morgan, who had never actually paid Keys for five years of service, died. Bill Keys obtained the ranch as back wages.
In 1918 Francis May Lawton married Bill Keys and she moved from Los Angeles, where she taught school, to the ranch. She was the perfect partner for Bill: creative, productive and smart.
They had 7 children, 4 survived – 2 died very young and one died when he was 12.
Our ranger guide showing us photos of Bill and Frances Keys at the time of their marriage.
Key’s workshop, where he fabricated tools and mastered ways to fix and fabricate the things he needed to run the ranch.
Today Joshua Tree is high desert, but back in the late 19th century, up until about the 1930s, Joshua Tree wasn’t the dry desert it is today. It was wet, fertile. Ranchers could raise cattle, grow alfalfa, and live off the land. But as the dustbowl hit the Midwest, California, too, dried up.
I have no idea what the object below is or what it does, but I think it’s cool. If you know what it is let me know.
The ranch is full of stuff like this. When a homesteader near the ranch failed, Bill would go to the property, determine that it was indeed abandoned, then strip it of anything that might be useful and bring it back to the ranch. He would use it or sell it to new homesteaders.
The group next walked to the main house on the ranch. The house was locked, so you could only peak through the windows.
Bill had intended on building Frances a new house, but because of unforeseeable circumstances, she never got her new house and had to live with her family in this one.
After looking at the main house, we walked to the part of the property where Bill stored the items he scavenged and were for sale. He had them organized by type to make finding the items easier.
Last is this truck, which was ID’ed on another website as 1929 Mac truck. Really cool.
I highly recommend this tour if you are visiting Joshua Tree for a few days.
The tours are by reservation only. The tours are a half-mile in length and last 90 minutes. Group size is limited to 25 people. Tours are offered at 10 am and 1 pm on a limited basis during the fall, winter, and spring months. You may call 760-367-5555 for information and to make reservations.