History of Joshua Tree National Park - Visit Palm Springs tag-img

History of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree makes a great day trip from Palm Springs

joshua tree

Paleo people are believed to have existed up to 8,000 years ago in this area. They mysterious disappeared. It is believed 500 years ago the Native American presence began within which are now the confines of Joshua Tree National Park. The Native Americans migrated with the seasons for they were hunters and gathers and were seeking the resources they needed to survive.

joshua tree

Today there are four major tribes:  the Mojave, Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Cahuilla, and there are about 15 sub-branches. Joshua Tree is rich with artifacts that have been found revealing aspects of their lives. A large boulder, made into a mortar and pestle (used for grinding flour) can be found in front of a small cave that was, more than likely, used for shelter.  It is not uncommon to find petroglyphs, and they are still being discovered by a fortunate hiker.

In the 1800s, the population of the area changed again. Gold was found in the area. Miners started sitting up camps around their mines. Some of them brought their families and settled in the area using the Homestead Act. However, the mines were not large producers of gold so many of the “temporary citizens” of the area packed up and left their belongings behind and retreated to the Los Angeles and San Diego.

keys ranch joshua tree

The Keyes Ranch (Preserved in the Park)

The Joshua Tree area, up until the 1950s, was not the dry, arid, desert that exists today. It was covered with knee-high grasses. Cattle rustlers were prevalent for they understood the grasses were a haven for raising cattle.  Two brothers, who were cattle rustlers, owned the land that eventually would be called the Keyes Ranch. The land went into foreclosure.   Mr. Morgan obtained the land and hired a caretaker, Bill Keyes.

Upon his death, Mr. Morgan owed Bill Keyes back wages. Those wages were paid by Mr. Keyes inheriting the land.

Mr. Keyes met his bride and brought her to the land. Eventually, they had seven children; five of them survived and lived on the ranch.  Water was plentiful so dams and ponds were built.  Mrs. Keyes managed the garden that flourished.  She realized there were lots of miners and settlers that needed food, so she sat up a store . Eventually, she sold things like bonnets for the miners’ wives and items that were made on the ranch by Mr. Keyes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Keyes developed a business where the miners would bring the ore down to his ranch and he would process it for them.  In addition, he developed the reputation of being able to fix anything.

Mrs. Keyes, home schooled their children. Other miners and settlers took noticed and asked if they could bring their children over to be taught by Mrs. Keyes. Eventually, a one-room school house was built and the San Bernardino School District hired a teacher from Burma to teach the children in the area.

Today this ranch is preserved exactly the way Mr. Keyes left it when he died in 1969. Thousands of pieces of metal he used as parts can be found in the immediate area, fences made out of Joshua trees and the buildings stand just as they were last used. A peek through the school house window reveals books still on the bookshelf.

Joshua Tree Preservation

The Superintendent of the Park, David Smith and Jason Theuer, Cultural Resource Branch Chief, fully understand the depth of the responsibility they have to care for this American treasure. In addition, both acknowledge that they are far from discovering the treasures that still are to be found in this 780,000 acre park.

So pack a lunch, fill up your car with gas and plenty of water and go out and explore this wondrous park. AND if you should happen to run across an artifact, leave it where it is, note its location and report your findings to one of the rangers. You just may find a missing piece of this parks amazing history.

joshua tree

Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
Visitors Information: (760) 367-5500

Palm Springs Outdoor Adventure

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