Providence Mountain State Recreation Area

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This page last updated on 01/29/2019
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There are a couple of ways to get to the Providence Mountain State Recreation Area and the Mitchell Cavern. From the south, it is 56 miles from Needles on Interstate 40, 116 miles east of Barstow, and 16 miles northwest of I-40 near Essex Road. Located at an elevation of 4,300 feet, the park is surrounded by one of the newest National Parks, Mojave National Preserve. We took the more difficult approach from the north. From Las Vegas, we drove 67 miles on I-15 to exit 272 (Cima Road). From there we drove down through the center of the Mojave National Preserve on Cima Road to Kelso Cima Road and then Cedar Canyon Road to Black Canyon Road, and then finally to Essex Road to the Park. The total accumulative distance is 115 miles. Refer to (Fig. 01) above.

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Preface Even though the Mitchell Caverns are inside the confines of the Providence Mountain State Recreation Area, it is impossible to ignore the 1,600,000 acres of the Mojave National Preserve, the third largest unit in the contiguous 48 states. Being that, we drove right through the middle of the preserve, yellow line in (Fig. 02) on our way to the Mitchell Caverns, I was perplexed on what to title this page. I finally decided to largely ignore discussions and descriptions of the Mojave National Preserve and concentrate solely on Providence Mountain State Recreation Area, the objective of our trip. As a result I have created a dedicated page just to describe the vast Mojave National Preserve, its many features, sites, points of interest and overall descriptions. To view this page go to the following link ... Mojave National Preserve. As a result this page is about the Providence Mountain State Recreation Area, just one of the preserve's many features.

(Fig. 03) Providence Mountains SRA
Area Description: The Providence Mountains State Recreation Area (Fig. 03) is a 5,900 acre state park located within the Mojave National Preserve (Fig. 02). This unique and remote travel destination offers a frontier experience of timeless landscapes and breathtaking views. We never expected to be treated with the many majestic views from the park (Figs. 04 & 05). The park is also home to the beautiful Mitchell Caverns (Fig. 05), a diverse habitat full of limestone cave formations and unique wildlife - everything from bats to tiny pseudoscorpions and more. In addition to a variety of cross-country hikes to the area's many peaks, the Mitchell Caverns are located in the heart of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area and is the main attraction to this area. Its spectacular and intricate limestone formations found include stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies, curtains and popcorn. In addition there are various hikes; the Mary Beale Nature Trail, located near the park's visitor center, is a self-guided moderate walk through the desert. Another, more strenuous, mile-long trail leads to a spring above the visitor center. There are also cross-country hikes to the many peaks in the 5,900 acre Providence Mountain State Recreation Area.

(Fig. 04) Taken from the lower parking area
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Mitchell Caverns Description: The Mitchell's Caverns are a trio of limestone caves, located at an elevation of 4,300 ft. in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. The "Tecopa" (named for a Shoshone Indian chief) and "El Pakiva" (Devil's house) caves are connected by a man-made tunnels (Fig. 07) For two of the caves there are "air locked" doors at each end of the tunnels to prevent strong drafts. The "Winding Stair" cave is considered dangerous and is closed to the public, though it is occasionally used for training cave rescue teams (Fig. 06 - Click to enlarge). These caves are the only limestone caves in the California State Park system. The caverns are named after Jack Mitchell & Ida, who owned and operated the caves from 1934 to 1954 as a tourist attraction and rest stop for travelers on nearby Route 66. Mitchell also held mining rights to the area and dug several prospect holes and tunnels, some of which are still visible. The area became a state recreation area in 1956. The surrounding lands became a part of the Mojave National Preserve in 1994, but the caves are still owned and operated by the state.

Tour Info: The tour involves a 1.5 mile moderate roundtrip hike to/from Mitchell Caverns and an hour guided tour of the cave. The cost is Individuals: $10 per adult | $5 per child (16 and below) | $5 per senior. Available Tours are:
11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Fridays through Sundays (including holiday Mondays). Park is closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Reservations are required. Reservations will be taken by phone only on Mondays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. You must speak with a staff member to make a reservation at (760) 928-2586. Phone messages and emails will not be accepted.

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Geology of the Caverns: The creation of the caverns dates back to the Pleistocene epoch, about 100,000 years ago, when ground water with a high carbonic acid content ate into the surrounding marble and sedimentary limestone. Earth’s surface buckled and shifted along the now-extinct fault lines that cross the Mojave Desert, creating mountains and moving the limestone formations above the surface of the ancient ocean floor. As the deposits moved upward, water flowing through the fractured rock began to form the caverns. Hundreds of stalagmites, stalactites and other natural formations adorn the caverns. These formations resulted from mineralized water seeping down into the underground caves over millions of years. As rainwater trickled down through the soil, it absorbed carbon dioxide released by tiny microorganisms that live in the organic subsurface. The water, now a weak solution of carbonic acid, passed through the cracks and pockets of the layered beds of limestone, dissolving it away. As the mineralized water dripped down from the cave’s ceiling, stalactites slowly formed, covering the ceiling and the walls with natural “draperies.” Stalagmites formed after the ceiling’s drippings landed on the cave’s floor. This caused a buildup of mineral deposits, creating vertical rock formations that resembled spires. In rare cases, the stalactite drippings and the stalagmite buildup merged, creating a column that stretched from the floor to the ceiling. Until recently, it was believed that the cavern’s formations had stopped growing. Studies illustrated that years of heavy rainfall brought mineralized water down into the caves, continuing the growth of the cavern’s rock formations. Numerous paleological and archaeological finds have been made in and around the caverns. Scientists have found the remains of several prehistoric animals, including a sloth.

12/14/2018 Trip Notes: Today Bob Croke, Jim Herring, Ron Ziance and I drove through the Mojave National Preserve to the Providence Mountain State Recreation Area, home of the Mitchell Caverns. The caverns are named after Jack Mitchell, who owned and operated the caves from 1934 to 1954 as a tourist attraction and rest stop for travelers on nearby U.S. Route 66 and ran the attraction for 20 years. Jack built all of the stone buildings here and gave cave tours himself. He also developed the road that got here from Route 66, which was 22 miles. When he lost his life savings in the stock market crash of 1929 he and his wife Ida retreated to the desert for a simpler life. Mitchell could not buy the caverns outright, so he sidestepped the law by buying up the local mineral rights all around them, effectively giving him control of the caverns. The only stipulation was that he had to actively worked the mines. To keep his claims valid according to mining law, Mitchell needed to show ongoing progress. He built tunnels, shipped ore, and hired an attorney to file patents on the claims.
He dug several prospect holes and tunnels, several of which are still visible.

When it was time for the tour to start, they gathered up about 12 of us just outside of the visitor center shown in (Fig. 06) and started by telling us the history of the area and the Mitchells who ran the cave (Figs. 09, 10, & 11). As we walked along the 3/4 mile long trail to the caverns our guide provided us with many stories and pointed out things of interest (Figs. 12, 13, & 14). As we rounded a corner with the bridge in front of us, a view from the bridge provided the following with a description of what we were looking at (Fig. 15). The openings for the caverns were above to our left (Figs. 16, 17 & 18). The entrance resembles two large eyes in the rock (#16 & #17).  By following a meandering trail that offers panoramic views across the Clipper Valley floor all the way to the Nevada state line, and follows a hill populated by giant barrel cactus that the Indians used to chop in half and use as baking ovens by filling them with heated rocks (Fig. 19). (Notes Con't. Below)

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(Fig. 15) Courtesy of Bob Croke

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Trip Notes Continued:  As you view the pictures that follow you will witness spectacular and intricate limestone formations and include stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies, curtains and cave coral. As we entered the first opening on the right (Fig. 20), we entered the El Paklva Cavern and were presented with hundreds of multicolored stalactites (Figs. 21& 22) dangling overhead like giant fingers reaching out to caress the visitor. At the far end of this cavern was the Queens Chamber (Fig. 23). This chamber contained some fascinating structures. First was the "Cave Shield", the largest of any cavern in the US (Figs. 24 & 25), and a connected floor-to-ceiling stalactite (Fig. 26 & 27). We then walked through one of the "man-made "solution" tunnels (Figs. 30 & 31) that led to the bridge over the Bottomless Pit (Fig. 32). Refer to (Fig. 06).
We then went through the "Cavern Connection Tunnel" to the Fallen Stalactite Room (Fig. 33 & 35). While we walked through this area we found a scorpion (Fig. 34) on the walkway. As we walked through the "Hollow Floor Room" (Refer to Fig. 06), we walked by the nest of a "packrat" (Fig. 36) and some beautiful views of stalactites overhead (Figs. 37 & 38). Lastly we approached the observation deck overlooking the Tecopa Room (Fig. 40). Our guide explained that they have performed several digs in this room that have revealed many Indian artifacts and the bones of a sloth, See the Note below. Overall, the caverns are relatively small making the dramatic surreal sculptures that dropped down from the towering roofs or ascended majestically from the floor, forming towers, pillars and chandelier-like protrusions that faded in and out of the thin recessed light, made the eerie shadows dance about. The towering domed roofs spread majestically overhead, causing me to crane my neck. Lighting made it difficult to obtain good pictures and I must have thrown away 75% of what I took. I hope the remainder are good enough to give you a feel of walking through these caverns. All total the tour was more than 2 hours and our guide was excellent. After exiting the caverns we hiked the 3/4 mile back (Fig. 42) and had a picnic lunch outside the visitor center.

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Side Note - Human Activity:
Cultural artifacts discovered in the caverns, dating back several centuries, indicate that the Chemehuevi and Mojave people were the predominant indigenous groups here. The caverns were a sacred place for the Chemehuevi Indians, and a number of tools and fire pits have been found. The Chemihuevi knew the caves as "the eyes of the mountain" due to their easily spotted dual entrances located near the top of the mountain. Soot-blackened walls and hidden caches of food, tools and other objects attest to their use by the Chemehuevi and Mojave during ceremonial events and seasonal hunting expeditions. These people lived along the Colorado River, and were known to grow some of their food. Both groups were skilled craftspeople—the Chemehuevi women were skilled basket makers, and the Mojave were prolific potters. Today the Colorado River Native Nations Alliance, which includes the Fort Mojave, Chemehuevi, Quechan and Cocopah groups, are actively preserving the river as an aquifer and as a living, vital habitat.
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Note: Every attempt is made to provide accurate information, but occasionally depictions are inaccurate by error of mapping, navigation or cataloging. The information on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied, and is for informational and historical purposes only.