Hwy. 190, Death Valley, California
From Wildrose campground a narrow and sometimes difficult gravel track climbs through Wildrose Canyon to Thorndike Campground at 7,400 feet, near which looms a strange colony of what look like giant beehives or prehistoric dwellings. These are the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, 10 perfectly aligned stone-and-mortar structures some 30 feet in diameter at the base and rising to a height of about 25 feet. They were built in the 1870s to turn local juniper and pinyon pine into charcoal for the lead-and silver-ore smelters near the Modoc and Minnietta mines.
Nobody has used the kilns for at least a century, but their sooty, conical interiors remain architecturally and acoustically fascinating. When you speak inside one, the echo seems to come from many places at once, and you can still smell the odor of burned wood.
A mile beyond the kilns lies Mahogany Flat (with campground), the site of a forest of sinewy mountain mahogany, and the trailhead for the strenuous seven-mile hike to Death Valley’s highest point, Telescope Peak (11,049 feet).
–Open year-round, weather conditions permitting; check with park ranger. High-clearance vehicles recommended. Admission fee.