Mitchell's Caverns are a trio of limestone caves, located at an elevation of 4300 ft. (1311 m), in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area in Southern California. The "Tecopa" (named for a Shoshone Indian chief) and "El Pakiva" (Devil's house) caves are connected by a man-made tunnel and are open to guided tours led by California State Park rangers. The "Winding Stair" cave is considered dangerous and is closed to the public, though it is occasionally used for training cave rescue teams. These caves are the only limestone caves in the California State Park system.
The caverns were created during the Pleistocene epoch, when ground water with a high carbonic acid content ate into the surrounding marble and sedimentary limestone. Stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave formations were formed from calcium carbonate left by dripping mineral water. For many years the caves were thought to be "dead", that is, the formations were no longer growing. However, recent studies have found some signs of life.
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. 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.
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 travellers on neaby 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.
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 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.
The park is located in the eastern Mojave Desert off of Interstate 40, 56 miles west of Needles, 116 miles east of Barstow, and 16 miles northwest of the Essex Road exit. Located at an elevation of 4,300 feet, the park is surrounded by one of the newest National Parks, Mojave National Preserve.
Caution- be prepared to travel in the desert! The nearest fuel station to the park is 24 miles away in Fenner. Carry water in your vehicle in case of an unexpected situation. Food is not available at the park, so plan ahead for meals.