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Living History Program At Joshua Tree National Park Takes You Back to The 1940s


A living history program at Joshua Tree National Park takes visitors back to the 1940s and life on the Keys Ranch. NPS photo.

There are some memorable living history programs to be found across the National Park System, such as the one you find at Scotty's Castle in Death Valley National Park. A new one has just popped up at Joshua Tree National Park, one set in the 1940s.

The program, offered at Keys Ranch, offers a first-person look into the life and times of the Keys Family – residents of a remote desert homestead at the end of the Great Depression.

The year was 1940. Europe and Asia were at war. Japan had invaded China. France and England fought to fend off the relentless German Blitzkrieg. A popular American president prepared to run for an unprecedented third term in office. Celebrating a perceived end to the Great Depression, New York City began hosting the two-year World’s Fair in 1939. Robots, monorails and televisions introduced visitors to a seemingly bright future. How did these events affect the remote Mojave Desert? Was the Depression truly over for the family of William and Frances Keys and other desert dwellers? How did they make it through those difficult years?

For adventuresome visitors, the new interpretive tour of the Keys “Desert Queen” Ranch attempts to answer some of these questions. Using “Living History” techniques, a costumed guide engages ranch visitors with stories, historical facts, questions, and memories. A uniformed ranger introduces the tour and makes the transition to 1940 where visitors are encouraged to participate by asking questions about work, family, diet, school, medical care, and other aspects of pioner life. Eventually, the costumed guide
returns to the present so “the rest of the story” can be told. At that point, questions can be answered about post-1940 events and artifacts as well.

These tours are being offered on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 1 p.m. Reservations are suggested for all Keys Ranch tours as tours are limited to 25 people. Visitors without reservations or advance-purchase tickets are welcome if space is available.

Either the living history or regular ranger-guided tours offer participants a rare visit into the past where frontier values and rugged desert living will be explored. Call 760-367-5555 for tour reservations, or visit Oasis or Joshua Tree Visitor Centers to purchase tickets. Guided tours of Keys Ranch cost $5.00 per adult and $2.50 for Senior and Access Card holders as well as for children ages 6-12.


Joshua tree National Park organization was incorporated 1962 as the primary educational partner for Joshua Tree National Park, to provide high quality informational products, services and programs to park visitors, and the global community.

Just took the regular tour on Wednesday. It's an interesting look at the Keys family's life in Joshua Tree. Highly recommended!

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