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The Charcoal Kilns of Death Valley

Ten structures stand like outer space beehives in a remote location of Death Valley National Park. They are charcoal kilns used during the Gold Rush when Death Valley was a mining haven.

The kilns are 25 feet high, 30 feet in diameter and were designed with a low doorway and a high window in the back. Small vent holes were also around the base to allow air to seep through for a slow burn.

Built by Chinese laborers in 1879, these kilns turned the logs into charcoal, a process that took up to 6-8 days and then cooling took another five days. They held more than 42 cords of pinyon pine logs and the burning process would produce 2,000 bushels of charcoal. (You can still see the pinyon tree stumps when walking through the mountains.)

Wagons then hauled the charcoal to the Modock Mine (about 30 miles from the kilns), where the charcoal was used to fire up the silver and lead smelters. Chinese laborers also built some of the roads during that time, which can still be seen, but are no longer in use.

After only 2 years of use, the kilns closed. The Civilian Conservation Corps restored the kilns in the 1930s and  then a Navajo teams stabilized them once again in 1971, deeming them to be a historically significant site.

While Death Valley has a reputation for being the hottest place in North America, I went during the winter when snow had fallen on the ground. The pictures are unique for that moment, yet the kilns remain prominent in any weather, considered extremely well preserved over the last century because they were so well built.


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