It’s not often that I have to caution my son to rein in some feat of potentially dangerous exploration. He’s usually a pretty safe 12 year old. Sure, there are plenty of times I chime in when he’s about to undertake something dangerous in the name of stupidity, but usually he’s smart when it comes to taking chances.

That’s where I found myself last week as he was about to top the roof of the remnents of an old bee hive kiln that was left almost forgotten in a forest. Nothing says “come closer” than a crumbling building in the woods, and nothing says “climb me” like an ancient iron ladder.

We discovered the ruins during a hot day of fossil hunting when we decided to take shelter from the sun and headed for a copse of trees on the edge of the open pit quarry we had been exploring. Seeking thicker folliage cover, we followed a small path deeper into the trees, past piles of discarded drainage tile shards and a mangled bicycle frame until we noticed the buildings peeking through the vegitation.

When my son mounted the ladder, which was part of the kiln’s outer wall, I was ok with climbing to the safe-looking catwalk that ringed the structure. I figured, if it gave out, it was a short distance to the ground below. But a fall from the roof would mean a longer drop and include crumbling brick debris. After a short debate, he took my advice, and we walked the catwalk without incident.

There had originally been 16 of the two-story domed kilns, lined up in rows on the outskirts of the small river town. At its peak, the plant quarried rock and baked brick and tile. I couldn’t determine when it shut down, but the local county government got the land in 1991 and turned it into a park, allowing fossil hunting in the Devonian-era sediment. Collecting is easy because layers didn’t turn to hard stone.

All that remains of the brick operation are four beehive kilns — three in good shape with some apparent effforts at preservation or possibly restoration, and the fourth a litte further back, deeper into the trees and covered in plant life.

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