Golden fields dotted with bushes of sage fill the expansive horizon. Off in the distance, too massive to accurately predict how far away, lie towering mountains, snow just beginning to settle on their caps.
Cows wander about free from perils, grazing at the dirty grass to their hearts content and I pull down a rough gravel road. “Charcoal kilns 5.8 miles” it warns as I make the turn, apparently knowing that I am in a car the “shouldn’t” be able to handle this terrain. Unperturbed and committed I head off, wondering just how long my luck traveling without a spare tire will last.
I quietly chuckle to myself as I think about my apprehensiveness. At worst, I will have a six mile walk back to the highways where I can wait to flag someone down. Not even 200 years ago, a dot in the historical record, I would have been with a small group on a wagon train, all on our own and left to our own devices if something went wrong. With that thought, I became thankful simply for being alive in this technological time. A time where things will never be all that rough. At this point though, I am ready to transport my self into another realm. A realm from the past. One a bit more modern, but still ancient in relativeness to today. At the end of this road are a few old charcoal kilns, left over from Idaho’s mining days when clean energy wasn’t even a concept one could comprehend.
There are four kilns left over from when these hills were flush with ore such as silver and lead. Time has taken its toll on what was once sixteen. Ropes of iron now hold these together, a beacon of history, of days long gone by. A symbol of when setting out to work in a mine was the true hope of an average American. They chance to strike it big and get rich, never to work again. As time wore on, those dreams came to the reality of solely needing to survive, and the tumultuous work of mining carried on.
I never have really thought about miners much in my life. Even though I (and most people) live off the fruits of their labors, we seldom give thought to the perseverance and dedication that was needed to work through a miners life. Loneliness in this vast open land, no friends or family to spend time with, only other miners of the Wild West who might as soon betray you as share a glass of whiskey. It must have taken a real character to deal with these things. Or maybe I am looking at this scenario with too much modern thought, hindsight providing a view of what could have been opposed to what was. This was the world in the 19th century. Choices to improve your lot were rare if existent at all.
I sat down and had lunch with an older gentlemen and his dog. He is eager to hear about my travels as he has been a potato farmer and with it, has lived in these rural mountains of Idaho most of his life, besides when he served. As I get up to leave, only a smile says goodbye and it says it as genuinely as possible. Driving away I am thankful for being alive in our world, even with as many problems as it has. And any scene that can inspire gratification is worth the trip. These kilns are exactly that and that is why we keep relics like these around today. A humble reminder of what was and how much hardship there once was to get us here.
Birch Creek Charcoal Kilns
Closest Supercharger Lima MT 110 mi
108 Bailey St, Lima, MT 59739