Hidden deep within Death Valley National Park in the rugged Mojave desert of California, the mysterious charcoal kilns make extremely compelling photographic subjects. Located in Wildrose Canyon far off the beaten tourist path, these ten, beehive-shaped masonry structures are prime examples of the rich history of Death Valley. Standing 25 feet high, the charcoal kilns were built around 1867 by the Modock Consolidated Mining Company to provide a fuel source for two smelters located about 25 miles away near mines in the Panamint (mountain) Range.
In the 19th century and earlier, charcoal was used as a furnace fuel since it burned more slowly than wood and generated the greater heat necessary to refine ores. Pinyon and juniper tree woods were used to produce the charcoal inside the kilns via a process of slow-burning in low oxygen conditions.
Today the kilns remain in remarkably good condition, mainly due to their short operational life. After other fuel sources were located closer to the mines, the kilns were no longer utilized to produce charcoal. Widespread reports of the labor force used to construct the mines, including Chinese immigrants and Native American Indians, remain undocumented. However, in 1971, the kilns were restored by Navajo Indian stonemasons from Arizona.
If you are a photographer, the rough drive on washboard roads and extensive hike required to access the kilns is well worth the effort. They are one of the most alluring and mysterious subjects I have encountered. The above images were originally shot on black and white infrared film with my old 35mm Nikon F4S. They were recently scanned and digitally processed. I will post additional images as they are worked up.
The Eastern Sierras of California is a paradise for photographers and nature lovers alike. From the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine where classic Westerns were filmed, to the old ghost mining town of Bodie just south of Bridgeport, the Highway 395 corridor has it all. A favorite vacation spot of mine is the Owens Valley town of Bishop, centrally located near spectacular attractions such as the Bristlecone Pine Forest, Death Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Manzanar, the White Mountains, Mono Lake, and much more. Bishop lies beneath the Inyo National Forest, along the Owens River just east of The Buttermilks, a well-known bouldering destination populated with volcanic tuff and granite rocks. Bishop is also the location of Mountain Light Gallery, which houses the work of the late, internationally renowned wilderness photographer and rock climber Galen Rowell – perhaps one of the best landscape photographers of all time.
Just north of Bishop lies the Volcanic Tablelands, another rock climbing paradise. According to the Bureau of Land Management Bishop field office, the Volcanic Tablelands is a vast volcanic landscape that was formed over 700,000 years ago by materials spewing from the Long Valley caldera, located to the northwest. In this arid, high desert landscape, the Paiute-Shoshone Indians once resided, leaving behind an extensive collection of perfectly chiseled petroglyphs in the rocks. As someone who has always been attracted to Native American Indian art and culture, the Volcanic Tablelands are high on my list of favorite petroglyph sites to visit and photograph.
Just where are these petroglyphs located? Actually all around the Volcanic Tablelands and neighboring Chalfant Valley off Highway 6. However, there are several areas where the petroglyphs are concentrated: Chidago Canyon, Fish Slough, Chalfant Valley, and Red Canyon. Unfortunately, due to disrespectful vandalism and defacing problems, these beautiful petroglyph sites are no longer marked. I was fortunate to speak with a staff member at the Bishop Chamber of Commerce who pointed me in the right direction. He understood, being a photographer himself. You can also check at the Bishop BLM field office or White Mountains ranger station for assistance, where you may or may not get directions. These two photographs were taken in Chidago Canyon and Fish Slough and converted to black and white. One has a canvas texture overlay added. The images are titled “Secret Story” and “Another Secret Story,” apt titles I feel. Hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed visiting and photographing the petroglyphs.