TwHP Lessons

Keys Ranch:
Where Time Stood Still

[Cover photo] Ranch house, Keys' Desert Queen Ranch.
(Photo by Harmon and Nelda King, National Park Service)


n the high desert of California, flesh-colored boulders rise up out of the stark landscape and embrace a small valley where Keys Ranch stands. Strangely shaped trees cast long shadows on the sides of the simple wooden ranch structures. Animal tracks in the sand tell of the previous night's adventures when scorpions, kangaroo rats, snakes, and bobcats battled for survival. This seemingly hostile desert environment was settled much later than other more productive areas of the West. Yet it was here, in 1917, that Bill Keys chose to establish a ranch and raise a family. Keys and other 20th-century homesteaders lived much as earlier pioneers in the West had, working hard to make their marginal land holdings successful. Today, Keys Ranch is preserved as part of Joshua Tree National Park.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Deserts of the Southwest
 2. Portion of Joshua Tree National Park

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Settling in the CA Desert
 2. Life on Keys Ranch
 3. Excerpts from Emerson's Essay

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Colorado Desert
 2. Mojave Desert
 3. Keys Ranch Complex
 4. Wonderland of Rocks
 5. Ranch House

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Self-Reliance
 2. Local Community History

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Joshua Tree National Park

This lesson is based on Keys' Desert Queen Ranch, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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