Sitting at the edge of Owens Lake are remnants of the days when the mines at Cerro Gordo produced more silver than anywhere else in California's history. The Cottonwood Creek Charcoal Kilns, constructed of clay bricks, remain standing, having been used in the 1870s to produce charcoal for the ore smelters in the mining town. But today, Cerro Gordo is a ghost town, Owens Lake is mostly dry, its water siphoned by the city of Los Angeles, and the kilns continue to crumble slowly, their clay construction succumbing to the sun, wind, and rain that have eroded them over time. Years ago, however, these kilns played an essential role in the success of Cerro Gordo's mines.
Needing material that could burn at high heat for prolonged periods of time in the town's smelters to help rid the silver ore of impurities, Cerro Gordo, which lies in the barren Inyo Mountains that more closely resemble Death Valley to the east rather than the Sierra Nevada to the west, imported wood from the Sierras by steamboat that crossed the wide Owens Lake. Two kilns were built near the lake's edge that would heat wood brought down from the mountains over the course of several days. The charcoal produced would be sent to Cerro Gordo. The steamboats, in turn, brought the ore back across the lake, bound for Los Angeles.
The two kilns stand inside a fence. There are no amenities of any kind at the kilns. The town of Lone Pine is located about 13 miles to the north. The California historical plaque that was in front of the kilns has disappeared, though a plaque put in place by the Clampers, members of an organization dedicated to the heritage of the American West, sits next to the dirt access road near its intersection with Highway 395. It is especially interesting to imagine this area's significant role in the state's history, given that there is not much going on around here these days. Overall, it is one of many interesting stops to make when passing along Highway 395, including the Olancha Sculpture Garden, the Olancha Dunes, Manzanar National Historic Site, and the Eastern California Museum Trail.