Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park
Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park
15 miles South of Ely, on U.S. Highway 93, and 7 miles West/Southwest on a County graded road (turn at and follow the signs)
The six beehive-shaped Ward Charcoal Ovens were built in 1875-76, to make charcoal for the small mining towns of Ward, Taylor, Hamilton and other small camps. Charcoal was used in the smelters that processed silver ore: higher temperatures were necessary for getting the silver to "melt" out of the ore. In the early years of mining in Nevada (1860ís), charcoal was often made by burning wood in a pit; but this was labor-intensive since the pit had to be dug, and then the dirt carefully laid back over the wood after it was set on fire. A reducing-fire was needed, rather than an oxidizing fire, to keep the wood from burning down into ash. Swiss-Italian stone-masons, nicknamed the "Carbonari," built many sets of charcoal ovens in the southwest, and did the production of charcoal. While we cannot be sure exactly who built the ovens at Ward, the style is very similar to those built by the Carbonari. Rock was quarried from the hillside just behind the present-day ovens, from the igneous rock formation of quartz latite tuff. The beehive shape was more efficient for the process of burning the wood; up to 30 cords of wood could be stacked inside each oven, producing around 1,750 bushels of charcoal at the end of the 15-day process. In the days when the Ovens were in use, trees were clear-cut from the immediate vicinity; in later years the Carbonari had to travel as far away as 30 miles. The Ovens were used from 1876 until around 1883, when the last of the silver mines closed in the Ely area. They stood vacant, providing shelter to passing cowboys or sheep-herders, until they were acquired as a Nevada State Park Monument in 1969. Additional acreage has been added over the years, to increase the number of visitor use facilities; the park encompasses around 600 acres now.
The park is now heavily wooded by second or third-growth native pinyon pines and junipers; willows line Willow Creek which divides the historic section of the park from the Campground and ranger residence area. Pinyon jays and magpies fly through the pines, along with chickadees, nut-hatches, brown creepers and other woodland birds. Ravens and golden eagles are frequently seen, hunting for rabbits and small mammals. Pronghorns may be seen on the valley floor, among the sagebrush and rabbitbrush on which they feed. Elk and deer roam the mountains, and are preyed on by mountain lion (who are seldom, if ever, seen by humans). Summer days seldom exceed 100, and nights cool into the 40ís even during July. Winter temperatures plunge below zero at night, with days barely up to freezing; a heavy blanket of snow generally covers the ground from November until March. Since the road to the park is graded gravel, winter travel may require four-wheel drive, even for the short distance of seven miles off Highway 93.
A series of trails lead to the Ovens themselves, to an overlook of the ovens by the quarry site, and also across Willow Creek and to the campground. Picnic facilities are available beside the Ovens, or at a day use area along the road to the campground. Camping facilities are primitive, with vault toilets, and drinking water available only during the summer. No trailer dump station is available. A trailhead for ATV use leads out of the park into adjacent National Forest or Bureau of Land Management properties.
Pictures and information were provided by Barbara Rohde of the Nevada State Parks
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