View to a Kiln
Last May, I returned to an area south of Lone Pine called Cottonwood Creek. It is a dry sandy chunk of washboard road off the 395 surrounded by desert shrubs and, when there is a spit of rain, by hardy wildflowers out for their brief bright romp. The road, which heads toward the lakebed of the Owens Valley, ends at the site of the Cottonwood Creek kilns. These earthen beehive-shaped kilns were used to make charcoal in the heyday of mining in the area. They are fairly tall structures, now cracked open and mostly empty, their interiors exposed, dark black char at the base attesting to the heat that once created fuel used to smelt silver, lead and copper. The charcoal was made from wood – cottonwood - which was relatively abundant at one time. Today there are no cottonwoods at Cottonwood Creek, and there is no creek either. The landscape consists largely of woody shrubs and hardy plants in the fine, dusty sand and the remnant of a berm that likely channeled mountain runoff into the Lake Owens. And what also remains is the irony of a place name that hints at the past, as place names often do, of what once existed there.