Sunday, October 6, 2019
We wanted to see the Charcoal Kilns (shown above) and expected the drive to be unremarkable. From Stovepipe Wells, we drove southeast on CA-190 in the direction of Panamint Springs Resort. Near the Emigrant Campground, we turned left onto Emigrant Canyon Road. This road has a special notation on the park map. “Vehicles longer than 25 feet not allowed.” The map shows the road as wiggly, when coupled with a 5,300 feet high mountain pass, this road would likely be a hard road to drive.
The road was hard to drive. The narrow two lane road had no shoulders. At the higher elevations, the road squirmed like a snake, up and down, side to side, with steep drop-offs, tight turns, few guardrails and hairpin blind corners. We were lucky. No oncoming traffic.
Emigrant Canyon Road ended and we turned toward Wildrose Campground and the Charcoal Kilns.
Wildrose Campground, at 4,100 feet, had many more campers than we would have expected.
The campground has a vault toilet and water is available. Few campsites are level or large enough to accommodate RV’s. The individual campsites have markers but boundaries between campsites are unclear. Travel trailers were seen in the campground.
The campground map shows how cramped the campground is in places. Depending on campsite, getting an RV in and out without incident could be a chore.
The Charcoal Kilns, roughly eight miles beyond Wildrose Campground, were at 6,800 feet elevation. On the way to the kilns, we ran across this display. $250,000 back in 1907 is equivalent to between $6 and $7 million dollars in 2019. Because of the height of the springs feeding the pipeline, the flow of water from the springs and the roughly 6,000 foot elevation drop of the water provided enough mechanical force to power mining and milling operations in the town of Skidoo.
Two miles before reaching the kilns, the road went from paved to gravel. The gravel road was passable by cars. It was wide enough for two cars to pass. Washboarding wasn’t a problem. There weren’t any ruts of consequence. It was dusty enough that rolling up the windows when passing oncoming vehicles made sense.
Parking was straightforward. Park anywhere. The kilns were beside the road.
The kilns were close together in a straight line parallel to the road.
The kilns had a door, window (shown) and vent holes close to the floor. It wasn’t clear from the information display how colliers, skilled workers tending charcoal kilns, stacked wood inside, placed the fire and sealed the kiln to deprive the baking wood of oxygen.
Linda had trouble with the whole Charcoal Kiln concept. What is it? How does it work. Why would anyone do that?
- Charcoal made from wood burns at much higher temperatures than wood.
- Charcoal generates enough heat for turning metal and mineral ores into their pure forms. Wood does not.
- Charcoal generates enough heat to turn metal into useful objects. Wood does not.
- To make charcoal from wood, wood is placed into a sealed oven (kiln) to keep oxygen out. Then the oven is heated for days, baking the wood inside. Typically, wood is burned to heat the oven. After the wood is baked long enough, the wood inside the oven has been transformed into charcoal.
- The borax mining company needed to transform borax ore into borax. Extreme heat produced by charcoal made that transformation possible.
In today’s thinking, charcoal isn’t generally thought of as a good fuel to use in industrial processes. Air pollution and deforestation are two undesirable side effects of charcoal production. Charcoal does make for excellent barbecue meats.
Returning downhill, towards Wildrose Campground, the views were spectacular.
After passing Wildrose campground, we turned left onto Wildrose Road, another road with a special warning notation. “Rough, narrow, winding road. Vehicles longer than 25 feet not allowed.”
This road alternated between gravel and paved. Additionally there were areas of 8% grades. Very steep in places. At Panimint Valley Road, we turned right toward Panamint Springs Resort.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!