Friday, June 27, 2014

The Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns

Once again we stopped at a California Historical Marker and once again, we were jolted by a big bolt of current--the kind that connects one era to another and brings history alive.  As we read the writing on the bronze plaque, its significance started to soak in.  "These beehive ruins could be a metaphor for global warming," I said.
We were standing on the edge of a now dry Owens Lake and looking at the remains of a kiln that turned lumber into charcoal to fuel the silver and lead smelters of the Cerro Gordo mines.  But where were the trees?  And where was the lake?  In the late 1800's the charcoal was loaded onto steamers that crossed a lake 12 miles long and 8 miles wide to the mine.  The bullion from the mines were then loaded onto 20-mule driven wagons and taken to Los Angeles.  The plaque read  that these kilns " . . .played a major part in the building of that little pueblo into the city of today."  Whoa!
These beautiful ruins are located about 14 miles south of Lone Pine on Hwy 395.  This part of California is covered with ghost towns, comprising the remains of once profitable mines.   When the earth was stripped bare, the people moved on.  It is a never-ending story.  Conservation has never been part of industry's long term strategy, and today, the climate of the world is changing because of it.

It's hard to believe that a vast, deep lake used to cover this area.  That little pueblo grew into a booming city and water was needed.  In 1913, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power diverted the rivers and streams that flowed into the lake into aqueducts and sucked it dry.

As we climbed the hill overlooking the kilns we had mixed feelings looking down at them.  The sky that day was beautiful and so was the desert and the mountains in the distance.  A hundred years ago, however, we would have been looking at a lake with thousands of migrating birds resting on its shores.   Trees would have dotted the landscape.  We would be walking on grass instead of sand.

The earth is changing and there's no stopping it.  We were looking down at the result.

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