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Desert Beauty

Beauty is found in the desert in the most simplest ways that touch the senses. During this Christmas season I’ve been  privileged to see these simple desert beauties, treasures of a friend.

Relaxing in the desert takes you away from the fast pace of the city. Just a few hours spent in the desert with friends recently made me feel very aware of nature’s beauty. In the first photo I was taking in the contrast of desert sand and mountain snow. That gorgeous colorful rock in the second photo amazed me. I absolutely love natural colors like that. The swing in the next photo brings one word to mind: relaxing.  The cat and I quickly became friends. It’s a very loving cat that stands on its hind legs to be noticed.

Nature -whether desert sand, rocks, or a cat – brings joy to the heart, especially when one is not in a hurry. Sitting in a swing in the middle of the desert with your shoes kicked off brings a sense of relaxation. Well, maybe the shoes should stay on lest a snake notice the feet. However, snake skins do make nice pieces of art. But that’s another story we’ll save for a later date.

Find the beauty in your Christmas season.

Merry Christmas!

Riding the Range with The Keys

Desert Cowboys never made the  desert; the desert made them. Among the notable desert ranchers is William Keys. I had the privilege of riding with his great grandkids.

Bill Keys came to this area in  1910 to work as an assayer and watchman at the Desert Queen Mine. When its owner died, he received the mine and its 5-acre millsite in payment for back  wages. His five acres grew to 160 when he homesteaded adjacent property to  become his Desert Queen Ranch.

I consider him a “desert  rat”: one of those characters who strive on surviving and creating a code of ethics in an  inhospitable land. In this rock-rimmed canyon using ingenuity, patience, and  hard work, Bill built a life for himself. He soon married Frances May Lawton,  who left the comforts of the city to move to the Mojave Desert ranch and start  a family. The couple had seven children between 1919 and 1931, three who died during childhood.

Together the Keys family tackled the hardships of isolated desert life. Eventually, the Keys’ homestead included a ranch house, store, two school houses, a home for a teacher, outhouses, sheds, a stamp mill, a corral, supply yard, orchard, cement dam and lake, windmill, irrigation systems, rock retaining walls, and a cemetery. He raised a family and coped with the harsh realities of the desert. To the ranch, miners brought ore to be assayed, neighboring homesteaders brought their children to be educated, and countless visitors came to enjoy the family’s hospitality. Their old wooded-wheeled mining truck was frequently seen in 29 Palms at Pioneer day parades.

Keys’ ability to repair machines and household items often came in handy. Since the ranch site was far from town, the family rarely threw anything away that they might use to fix a broken item. Keys scavenged abandoned ranches and mines for rails, wire, pipes, household items, old cars, and tires left behind by less
successful people. He even purchased an entire junk yard and organized it into neat piles on the ranch to use as a supply yard.

Most of the surrounding homesteaders and miners viewed Keys’ ranch as the center of their desert network and its owner as a helpful friend. Miners appreciated his knowledge of mines in the area and his milling capabilities. Keys built a one-room school house for his children and others in the area to ensure they received a proper education despite their isolation. He provided the teacher with a cabin on the ranch. The family also hosted many visitors at the ranch including well-known writer Erle Stanley Gardner, and famous botanists Phillip Munz and Edmund Jaeger. Jaeger, while identifying new desert plant species, named a flower “Keysia” (Glyptopleura setulosa) in honor of the kindness the Keys family showed to so many desert travelers.

After Frances death in 1963, Bill sold the ranch to eventually become part of the Joshua Tree National Park. He remained on the ranch until his death on June 28, 1969. While the world outside the ranch had changed dramatically, Keys’ way of life had remained remarkably constant. He was buried beside his wife in the family cemetery to become part of the canyon he loved and labored for during 60 years of residence.

When I lived on the mesa in Pioneertown, the Keys extended family had settled in a deep canyon near Pipes Canyon. The ranch was earthy, low-slung and wood-heated most of the year. There were several out buildings and horse corrals near the main driveway. Once you got past the main wooden gate that was usually standing open, several dogs with Mrs. Keys came out and greeted you. Johnny Keys, up in his 60s at that time, was always a busy man.

His two daughters, Johnna and Debbie, were close enough to my age that we often went horseback riding up into the boulder-lined ravines. Up canyon, the piñon and juniper grew rich with their nuts and the scrub jays and quail often ran underbrush just ahead of us.

It was a great time to be out in the wild. Sometimes we’d go scout out new trails, other times when the heat got unbearable, we’d jump in a natural spring and soak our clothes to stay cool for the ride home. Johnna was the hell-raiser of our group, and loved to go skinny-dipping.

One time after a spring rain, we  had trailed a set of cougar prints into the upper ravine, and being adventurous, thought we might spook it out of the timberline. The desert holds traps for young adventurers. Debbie soon found out that the sandy arroyo near the rocks was not solid. Her horse panicked and began post-holing, leaping and bounding in the quicksand, eyes fearful, head flailing. It was a disastrous

I tossed a rope to her while  staying on my saddle. That rope provided just enough tension to help her horse seek a route out of the mire. She stayed on and coaxed him to the edge where he finally got solid footing.

We were all waiting, shaking, and watching the poor fellow shiver from the adrenaline rush. We all felt done in. Deb got off and wiped her mount down with her shirt to let him relax and cool off. It was awhile before we decided to head back and leave that cougar for another time.


Note: 1917 Keys Cattle Brand is Capital B with stylized horizontal F sticking out of the center like a key in a lock.

Partial info retrieved from mural series in 29 Palms

High Desert Writers Club Blogging Guest Speaker

Professional Blogger Bill Belew, “Wilby” spoke to  the High Desert Branch of California Writers Club (HDCWC) in Apple Valley this past Saturday, October 8, 2011. Does that mean blogging is writing then? You got it! In fact, the best way to write is to blog because to be a successful blogger, you have to blog or “write” every day. What do you blog about? According to Bill Belew, you should write about something:

  • you’re interested in
  • that you can create an interest in
  • that is timeless, things people will always want to know (anchor posts, evergreen posts)
  • that is timely
  • you have a lot to say about

Another blogging subject Bill talked about was obstacles to getting started blogging. A new blogger will ask, “What’s my name going to be?” Bill says:

  1. Choose something people can spell
  2. Try your own name
  3. You can always change it

One thing I like about being a member of  HDCWC is that we have a variety of speakers to come to our monthly meetings. Each speaker has advice and experiences to pass along to the writers and authors of the club.  Everyone can leave the meetings with new and helpful knowledge. It doesn’t matter how old you become, you continue to learn things. Bill Belew gave us important information to be successful at blogging. I blog and love to blog, so I was particularly excited about this guest speaker coming to our group.

If you are interested in learning more about blogging, you are welcome to join High Desert Bloggers at I’d love to have you join.


High Desert’s Lake Silverwood

Have you heard about the proposed closing of Lake Silverwood in the High Desert on Wednesdays and Thursdays starting October 1st, 2011? I learned about it at the Silverwood Country Store, a place of business that is affected by this decision made by the Department of Parks and Recreation. This is a convenient store to shop at when traveling the Silverwood area, and the service is friendly. When you can, stop in at this store and sign the petition to protest the proposed Wednesday and Thursday closing. Incidentally, when you visit Silverwood Country Store, tell them you heard about the petition at High Desert Blogging.

Enough signatures on the petition could make a huge difference to the store. A store manager has had to inform people headed to Lake Silverwood on those particular days that the lake was closed. Can you imagine making your plans to go the lake and have to head back home, especially with your boat? That change of plans could certainly cause someone a  measure of frustration and disappointment.

Like candy? If yes, you must try the carmels by the register. There are three flavors to choose from: the regular carmel, pecan, and carmel apple. Oh, my! If you prefer something salty, go for Kettle’s Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper chips or the California Earthquake chips.Even on a Wednesday and Thursday like this week when it had rained, making the clouds and sunset gorgeous, and the weather was cool, visitors were still going to the lake according to the manager of Silverwood Country Store.

Labor Day Weekend

What do you like best about Labor Day weekend? I would choose an extra day off from work to go at the top of my like-best list. What High Desert activities can you think of to do this holiday weekend?

  • Barbecue with friends
  • Go to the beach
  • Go to the mountains
  • Shop (Where?)
  • Read a book (What genre do you prefer?)
  • Go to a movie (Which movie would you choose?)
  • Other

I’d like to read your comments. If you know of a place having a Labor Day sale in the High Desert, leave a comment with the information. The best way to learn about special events is by word of mouth, an easy marketing tool.

Enjoy your holiday weekend, and stay safe!

Thank you for visiting High Desert Blogging, and come back soon.


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