Landmark #537 Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns

Again we found ourselves on 395, wanting to see something we hadn't seen before and the kilns called our names.

These large brick kilns stand as a reminder of the tremendous impact of the Gold Rush on forests and landscapes. These beehive shaped structures are located alongside what used to be Cottonwood Creek, and a part of the larger story of Owens Lake before its water was diverted to feed the Los Angeles Basin. Today, Cottonwood Creek is long gone and most of what is left of Owens Lake is a dry lake bed (another story to be told, sadly).
The Cottonwood kilns were built to provide charcoal to the rich Cerro Gordo mine, 10 miles to the east and across Owens Lake. The wealth of the Cerro Gordo mine in the 1860s totaled nearly $20 million in silver and lead bullion. After all the trees surrounding the mine had been cut down, miners began cutting Cottonwood trees alongside Cottonwood Creek to keep the kilns at the mines burning. With so much raw ore to process and refine, the kilns at the mine had an insatiable appetite for charcoal.

Like all things (including the trees), the mine came to an end. Cerro Gordo is deserted today, yet it stands as the greatest silver and lead producer in California history and the kilns remain to tell the story.
And here they are, as they were in the 1930s. What a great detour on the way back home.

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