Night time long exposure Ward Charcoal Ovens Historic State Park Ely Nevada

Ward Charcoal Ovens – Ely, Nevada

Date of visit: Saturday November 5th, 2016

Attractions/Places of Interest:

Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park is known for its six charcoal ovens and the history behind them. Originally built in 1876, they served their primary purpose for only 3 years during the silver boom years of the Ward mines. The ovens were essentially smelters for melting ores erected by the Martin and White Company of San Francisco after silver ore was accidentally discovered in the area. This discovery also triggered a huge mining boom which early Nevada became known for.

The ovens were built along Willow Creek with materials extracted from nearby mountains – primarily blocks of tertiary volcanic and quartz latite tuff. The ovens are 30 feet tall and 27 feet in diameter towards their base with 20 inch thick walls. Their beehive shape was a result of optimizing their performance by minimizing heat loss as the shape reflected heat back towards the center of the oven.

Milky Way in Ely, Nevada

The ovens are a very quick walk from the parking lot on flat terrain making them very accessible, however as you can see from the trail map below there is more to explore if you wish. We visited after midnight and did not wander anywhere else. We were also quite creeped out by some blinking lights and sounds of movement about 100 feet behind the ovens. #Aliens. As a result we did not spend enough time here to achieve my goal of several star trail photographs.

Ward Charcoal Ovens Trails

For current entrance fees and trail details visit the official Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park website.

Other resources to consider:

Milky Way in Ely, Nevada

Photography talk and some excuses:

Our visit here was the last of the day, long after the sun had set. We arrived after midnight with the goal of photographing some star trails. Unfortunately this was my first attempt at ever trying to achieve such an effect and I assumed Nikon’s built-in intervalometer would be intuitive and easy to figure out. I was wrong. Thankfully I was able to learn from this experience which allowed me to yield an incredible result at a later destination in Monument Valley, Arizona. Not having an external intervalometer also meant I was limited to 30 second exposure times, and even at f/2.8 and 6400 ISO I was still underexposed by at least 1-1.5 stops. Complete fail on this one, but I had to show something.

In this location I would recommend going super wide in the range of 14-15mm (FX equivalent) but I have seen many photographs online that achieved great results in the 70-150mm range depending on where they were standing.

Unfortunately my group (myself included) was cold and tired, creeped out by the lights and sounds in the distance, and I felt discouraged after struggling to get the intervalometer working for more than half an hour. It was also dark which made the area difficult to explore to get a good vantage point. The lack of light also made it nearly impossible to focus even with 4 people shining their headlamps at the ovens so it took about 20 shots of trial and error with manual focusing.

Milky Way Panorama in Ely, Nevada

As you can see above, I did however manage to get a great panorama shot of the milky way (with no way to incorporate the ovens into that photograph due to timing/position). Compositing the 7 or 8 photos together is not an easy task when you are dealing with 30 second exposures and the stars are moving between shots 1 and 8, therefore causing alignment issues in photoshop. On top of that I had to deal with some pretty major distortions, but for my first time seeing and shooting the entire milky way and having a clear view to be able to capture a panorama was really amazing.


On the bright side (pun intended) this area is one of the least light polluted areas of the United States. Take a look at this light pollution map. This certainly helped with capturing the images of the milky way. 

Light Pollution map

Equipment Used:

For a full list of equipment I typically recommend, click here.

Overall Impression:

There is some interesting history here and these ovens are certainly unique, however I would not go too far out of my way to visit them. To be fair, there is potential to capture a great photograph here although I do not think I would attempt again. If it was not along the way for us as we headed from the Bonneville Salt Flats to Great Basin National Park, I do not believe it would’ve ever made the list on our itinerary. If it’s along the way for you, I recommend stopping by, otherwise I wouldn’t say you’d be missing out on much.