Mojave National Preserve

Mojave National Preserve

Mitchell Caverns

Latitude, Longitude: 34.943011, -115.513172

Mitchell Caverns are limestone caves that feature a wide variety of formations. Trips through the caverns are conducted by guided tours only and last about 1 1/2 hours. Although the tour is not strenuous, there is a half-mile walk to the cave entrance from the visitor center and another half-mile walk throught the caverns on uneven ground. The area became a California State Park in 1956 and still contains the only limestone caves in the California State Park system.

Mitchell Caverns are primarily the result of sedimentary limestone and metamorphised limestone (marble) being dissolved by ground water high in carbonic acid content. After the dissolution, caverns were formed; the continued dripping of highly mineralized ground water into the caverns produced stalactites (dripstone deposits extending downward from the ceiling) and stalagmites (dripstone deposits building upward in mound-form from the floor).

Jack Mitchell was the first owner and promoter of Mitchell Caverns. The Caverns were hard to reach and there were little funds available to improve the roads. Jack had to improve the roads and build the rock facilities that are now used by the Park Service.

Even after opening the Caverns to the public, Jack Mitchell retained his interest in attempting to locate silver and other valuable deposits. The location of prospect holes and tunnels that he dug in this search, many along the Caverns' trail, can still be seen but have been blocked off as a safety precaution.

Mitchell Caverns consists of three basic caves that he called "El Pakiva," or the Devil's House; "Tecopa, " named for one of the last chiefs of the Shoshone Indians; and the deep and vertical "Winding Stair Cave," a dangerous cavern that is off-limits to the general public.

For many years it was thought that the Caverns were no longer "living," which means stalactites and stalagmites were not "growing." But heavy rains in some recent years have brought back some signs of life. Mitchell Caverns have been the subject of a number of scientific studies because they contain unusual formations not found in most other limestone caves.

An account of Jack Mitchell's first descent into the "Winding Stair Cave" during the period of his early explorations would read like fiction. It was a chilling experience as he lowered himself into the unknown depths with the use of a "bosun's chair" that constantly turned in the darkness, causing him to virtually lose all sense of both time and direction. His signature on the cavern wall, dated July 1, 1931, indicates that he had penetrated this cave at least as far as the portion he called "Dog Leg Room. "

The Cave of the Winding Stair has been utilized as a training area for cave rescue teams under a program sponsored jointly by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the County Sheriff's Department, and the National Park Service.

In conducting the tours that Jack guided through the El Pakiva and Tecopa caverns, it was necessary to make a separate entrance into each cave. This was a situation that always bothered him, because he said that it "spoiled the tour." He told eveyone that he had always wanted to connect the two caverns with a tunnel that would provide a continuous excursion, but lack of financing prevented him from making this improvement. It was finally accomplished after his death, when the California Department of Parks and Recreation hired crews to do the work. With the added publicity that the State was able to provide, the annual count of visitors to the Caverns has increased dramatically since the Mitchell years.

Tour fees are $4.00 for adult, $2.00 for child under 16.
Tours are limited to 25 persons. For groups of 10 or more persons, reservations should be made by contacting the park at 760 928-2586.

The park will be closed for the month of August 2008 for annual maintenance work.

Tour Schedule: Labor Day weekend to Memorial Day
Weekends 10:00 AM, 1:30 PM, 3:00 PM
Weekdays 1:30 PM
Summer everyday 1:30 PM

Facilities - Activities

The Mary Beale Nature Trail, located near the park's visitor center, is a self-guided moderate walk through the desert. A brochure describing desert plants and animals is available. 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.

Mitchell Caverns, located in the heart of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, is a popular tourist attraction. Spectacular and intricate limestone formations found include stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies, curtains and popcorn. First opened for tours by Jack Mitchell in 1932, the caverns were purchased by the State in 1954. They are the only limestone caverns in the State Park System.

Located at an elevation of 4,300 ft, temperatures usually remain moderate throughout the year. The most popular months to visit are October through May. Temperatures inside the caverns are a constant, comfortable 65 degrees.

Directions

The recreation area is located in the eastern Mojave Desert, 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.