Let’s Talk Workamping

Let’s Talk Workamping

Need to find something to do with all your extra time? Maybe workamping is for you!

This last January we spent three months caretaking for Key’s Ranch inside Joshua Tree National Park. The caretaker position there didn’t pay a wage, but we had space for the trailer, water, garbage, and reimbursement for our propane. The job description included helping park rangers with daily tours of the ranch, helping lost hikers find their way, and making sure there were no vandals on the property. It was a simple job, and the rangers at Joshua Tree were great to work with. It was an amazing experience that I am quite grateful for.

Keys Ranch

We were just recently hired for a Fire/Equipment Watch position in Oregon.  This job description includes fire watch for a few hours after quitting time for the work crew, and equipment watch during the night and weekends. They decided to go ahead and hire for the position because some jackass used their equipment tires as target practice a few weeks ago. We are paid a daily stipend with this job, which is great. We’re responsible for our own power (solar!), water, and propane. They do provide a port-a-john, and I learned today that I have to share my port-a-john with the crew sometimes. I’m not super thrilled about this, but I think I’m going to try leaving packages of maxi pads and tampons in there to keep the guys out – I will keep you updated on how that works for me. 

This is part of the area that we are keeping watch over. (Photo credit unknown)

Now you would like to know where we find these kind of gigs, right? Well, if you wouldn’t like to know, you should go read something else.

There are a lot of workamping sites available online. Most are free, but some do charge for a membership.

Sugar Beet Harvest Short term positions offer excellent compensation and attract applicants from all over the United States and Canada.

Workamping JobsHelp Wanted Ads for Campgrounds and RV Parks looking for RV workers.

Cool Works– Jobs in Great Places. Where Do You Want To Be Tomorrow?

Workers on Wheels   – Work For RVers And Campers. Sets you free with temporary, seasonal, and mobile jobs that pay.

American Land & Leisure – Here you’ll find information about the facilities we manage and about working with AL&L.

Modern Day NomadsFollow Your Dream Job: Top Travel Jobs & Inspiration for Globetrekking, Creative Professionals

Government Volunteer Positions

Volunteer.gov – Find volunteer positions within the government at National Parks, Army corps of Engineers, etc. 

State Parks – Look up individual states to find what workamping positions they may have available, like Oregon

Craigslist – If you have a location in mind, use Craigslist.org to find workamping positions. Make sure to search under Jobs and Gigs. 

Indeed.com – Use the desired location zip code and keywords to find workamping jobs. Keywords: workamping, caretaker, host, fire watch, etc.


Keys Ranch – A Photographic Tour

Keys Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park.

I introduced you to Bill Keys and the Keys Ranch in a three part series that you can find here: Keys to the Desert Part One ,  Keys to the Desert Part Two , and Keys to the Desert Part Three.

A Photographic Tour

The Buildings

The main house seen through the corral and fences in the front yard area.
The main house is the first building that Bill Keys built on the ranch…the house kept growing as his family did.
Apparently, Bill didn’t know how continuing to add rooms could end up being more difficult than anticipated…
The main house and the well outside. Frances, Bill’s wife, would joke about how she had always had running water…the kids ran out to get it and brought it back in.
Kitchen in the main house
Desert cooler outside the kitchen window to keep food cool.
The main house and Frances’ store and desert museum right next to it.
Handcrafted fireplace and chimney
Desert Queen Store and Desert Museum
Various license plates and wall hangings inside the store. The paper with the drawings on it are showing the two cattle brands that the ranch used.
I would check the weight limit on these before having a sit-down…
Artifacts and merchandise still set up in the store.
Artifacts and merchandise still set up in the store.
Artifacts and merchandise still set up in the store.
Artifacts and merchandise still set up in the store.
Artifacts and merchandise still set up in the store.
One of the rental cabins on the ranch.
Inside of rental cabin. Insulated with heavy burlap.
Another rental cabin.
I’m assuming it used to have a door…but if not, it just acted as a desert exhaust fan…

The Schoolhouse and Teacher’s Quarters

The first schoolhouse built on the ranch. Later replaced by a larger building for more area kids to attend.
Desks stored in the old schoolhouse
The newer, bigger schoolhouse.
Furniture left behind in the schoolhouse.
Teachers cabin
Kitchen in the teachers cabin

The Keys Used Car Lot

A great trailer to haul….air?
Bill’s favorite vehicle, “Willy’s Jeep.” The canvas top ended up dried out and ruined in the desert, so Bill’s son, Willis, replaced it with the top of a Model A Ford.
The Mack truck that Bill salvaged from the desert after San Bernardino County workers got it stuck in the sand.
Bill’s son actually got this truck running after the National Parks Dept took over the ranch. He moved it a couple of hundred feet away and then it died. He left it there, but left instructions on how he got it started so they could move it back.
Mack Truck
I am not a car person, so I have no idea what most of the are.
It may need a new engine.
The used car lot…
A mechanics dream!
Buy this used beauty and we’ll replace the windshield for free.
Just waiting for the perfect owner…take her for a spin!


Old hand crank for the well under the windmill


The Supply Yard

You will find any kind of brick you can imagine!

Tires! Buy 1, Get 27 free!
Nuts, bolts and screws galore!
Need to blow some stuff up? No Problem! Hercules Powder!
These explosives are…explosive. Be careful.
Is it a milk jug? Oil jug? Water jug? Iced Tea jug? Whisky jug? Have a sip and find out!
More buckets, jugs, and pans.
Willydings, Whatchamacallits, and Whoozigadgits!
Appliance center
This, that, and some of those!
And this!
Barrels, buckets, and Billywigs!

Adobe Mill

This was originally dug as a water well, but they only found mud down there, so Bill turned it into an Adobe Brick Mill
Part of the Adobe Brick Mill
Adobe Brick Mill
Adobe bricks made on the ranch
Adobe bricks

The Machinery and Inventions

There is this thing…
…and this one.
A cement mixer! I knew one!
Oh, and this!
Plus one of these!


Small retaining wall near the main house. There is not normally flowing water through here, but we brought the rain from the southern Oregon coast with us…
Dam wall.
Water behind the dam

Farmer Bill

This is a chicken coop…
Really. A chicken coop.
Rabbit hutch
Orchard trees
Garden area

More Joshua Tree National Park coming soon!

The Keys to the Desert – Part One

Keys Ranch rests in the desert inside Joshua Tree National Park. It is an intriguing place where time has stood still, leaving behind an amazing view into history.  This is the story behind the eccentric genius that brought it to life.

Keys Ranch

William Keys was born on September 27, 1879 in Palisade, Nebraska. At the age of 15, Bill left home to head west. As he traveled he worked at mills, mines, and cattle ranches. Bill arrived in Twentynine Palms in 1910 and landed a job working for a large mining company called the Desert Queen. The owner of the Desert Queen died still owing Bill back wages. Bill took the Desert Queen Mine and Millsite as payment.

Bill married Frances Lawton on October 8, 1918. She had a been a big city girl, now living in a small homesteading world.

Did we just have a reverse Journey moment?

Between 1919 and 1931 Bill and Frances had seven children; three died during childhood and are buried in the ranch cemetery.

Bill and Frances Keys. (image linked to photo credit)

Bill and Frances not only survived in the desert, they prospered in it. Bill was a master of many trades. He worked construction on the ranch, mined over 16 mines, processed ore for himself and other miners in the area, and built a dam (twice). He rented cabins to war veterans that needed the space and healing attributes that the desert had to offer.

Wanting to keep the kids at the ranch in case Bill needed help, Frances home schooled the children. As more children were born and more homesteaders moved in nearby, Bill decided to build a school and hired a teacher that lived on the ranch as well.

Frances and Bill planted a large garden and orchard that grew almost everything that the family needed, plus enough left over that Frances would can the fruits and vegetables and sell them in their small store on the ranch. The Keys also kept goats, chickens, and cattle on the ranch along with bee hives to harvest honey and help pollinate  his garden.  

Bill’s biggest conquest of the desert was the dam he built to create a reservoir on the ranch. He used any type of metal that he could find the desert to strengthen the retaining wall, including bed springs.

Dammit, Bill!

Bill had a knack for knowing when other homesteaders were getting ready to abandon their land and he would go there after they had left to salvage anything that they had left behind. He acquired a 1922 chain driven Mack truck that the county of San Bernardino had abandoned it after getting it stuck in the sand.


Few cosmetic issues, nothing too bad. .

The battery is going to go dead if you leave the door open too long…
Studebaker Wagons

While some visitors today may look at the ranch as a bit of a junkyard, there was purpose for everything. Bill was probably the first “upcycler”. If alive today, Bill would have had the most popular Pinterest site ever.

“Aren’t you one of those guys? Those guy guys, you know, those guys with skills. You send them into the wilderness with a pocket knife and a Q-tip and they build you a shopping mall.” – Six Days, Seven Nights…also known as Harrison Ford’s biggest regret.

Read more. The Keys to the Desert Part Two.