Once used to make charcoal for the mining efforts in the area, the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns now stand as works of hand-engineered beauty. The kilns are made of cut limestone, quarried locally and cemented with gravel, lime, and sand. They stand approximately 25 feet tall, their walls curving gracefully inward to form a beehive shape. The Modock Consolidated Mining Company built them in 1877 to fuel the smelters of lead-silver mines in the Argus range to the west. The structures were designed to reflect as much interior heat as possible, but who knew that sound waves have similar properties? Open arched doorways lead to the interior of the kilns; stomp around on the floors of each one to capture the hollow echoes. Each kiln stands as a mini cathedral, the echoes swelling to the industry that once rang out across the canyon.
The views become increasingly more impressive as you look down into Death Valley Canyon, Trail Canyon, and Death Valley itself.If you hike along the Wildrose Peak Trail, which starts at the first charcoal kiln, you’ll see tree stumps along the mostly forested trail. The trees were cut down and fed to the kilns to feed the mining operations that were king here. This is an easy trip from Wildrose Campground or on your way to hike Wildrose or Telescope Peak.
Hiking Wildrose Peak
This pretty, well-maintained trail lures you on with juniper trees, conifer forests, sparkling ancient schist, and glimpses of the canyons below. Stretches of welcome shade for hiking, coupled with the relatively high elevation, makes this a good choice for late spring or early summer.
The clearly marked 9-mile round-trip trail begins at the westernmost charcoal kiln. The trail starts out fairly level, but this is small comfort because sooner rather than later, you’ll have to start climbing; the trail has an elevation gain of 2164 feet. The trail is intermittently steep up to the saddle, at 2.1 miles, where you have sweeping views of Death Valley. If you are not set on reaching the summit, this is a rewarding place to stop and turn around.
After climbing again, the trail reaches a second saddle, with more views, at 3.1 miles. From here, Wildrose Peak is 1.1 miles farther via a steep trail; it feels like you’re climbing straight up the side of the mountain, and then comes a series of increasingly steep and tight switchbacks. The views become increasingly more impressive as you look down into Death Valley Canyon, Trail Canyon, and Death Valley itself. The scenery becomes as rarified as the air, and you’ll begin passing gnarled and ancient bristlecone pines.
Beware a false summit 0.2 mile before the actual summit. Just as you’re about to start celebrating your ascent, you’ll see the trail continues along a ridge to the actual summit. Fortunately, this is an easy, level stroll. You’re rewarded for your pain and suffering with panoramic views from the windswept summit. The tiny road you see in the distance to the northeast is Aguereberry Point.
From Panamint Springs, drive 16 miles east on Highway 190 to Emigrant Canyon Road. Turn right onto Emigrant Canyon Road and drive 21 miles south to the road’s end. The kilns are located seven miles past Wildrose Campground. The road is paved most of the way; the last two miles of gravel are slightly rough, but should be suitable for most cars.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Death Valley National Park.