If you’ve arrived here from the previous page, you know that the road into Wildrose Canyon begins about 15 miles south of Panamint Junction, along Panamint Valley Road. I chose to drive down here, and take Wildrose Canyon into Death Valley, because I thought it might be a wild and especially scenic drive. It wasn’t quite as extraordinary as I had hoped, but a side trip up to the Charcoal Kilns made the extra miles worthwhile.
Wildrose Canyon Road begins with a warning that forbids RV’s and trailers longer than 25 feet long, or 9 feet wide. As I drove the road, it seemed as if quite a few people had ignored these rules — but I didn’t see anyone having problems.
This is about as dramatic and exciting as Wildrose Canyon gets. The road is wide and well-maintained, and not the least bit difficult to drive.
At Rattlesnake Gulch, there’s a crossroads, and you can make the choice to continue on into Death Valley, or make the side trip up to the Charcoal Kilns.
There are ten beehive-shaped kilns, side-by-side and perfectly spaced, creating a remarkable amount of symmetry in an otherwise undeveloped place.
The kilns were built in 1879 to produce charcoal for the Modock Mine smelter, 30 miles away. The pinyon pine trees were burned and turned to charcoal in a process that took a week of firing, and another five days of cooling.
There’s still quite a bit of charcoal residue on the walls inside the kilns, even though nothing has been burned here in nearly 130 years. The kilns were only used for three years after their construction.
You’re free to walk inside any of the kilns, where it’s dark and cool, and there’s a neat echo. The front door and back window, as well as dozens of smaller ventilation holes provide some light inside.
Aside from being a little bit bumpy, the drive back down to Wildrose Canyon Road is a whole lot of fun, because of the incredible view that stretches out before you. The road to the kilns passes through Mahogany Flats, a wide canyon with a slanted floor that slopes towards the main road. Stop anywhere along the road and you’ll have a great view of Mahogany Flats, the road…
… and in the distance, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It had been hours, and many, many miles, since I had left Lone Pine and the tall peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and yet I could still see them from here. How neat.