State Recreation Area
The mission of California State Parks is
to provide for the health, inspiration and
education of the people of California by helping
to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological
diversity, protecting its most valued natural and
cultural resources, and creating opportunities
for high-quality outdoor recreation.
California State Parks supports equal access.
Prior to arrival, visitors with disabilities who
need assistance should contact the park at
(760) 928-2586. If you need this publication in an
alternate format, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
For information call: (800) 777-0369
(916) 653-6995, outside the U.S.
711, TTY relay service
State Recreation Area
38200 Essex Road or P.O. Box 1
Essex, CA 92332 • (760) 928-2586
© 2010 California State Parks (Rev. 2017)
In the middle of the
Mojave Desert, Jack and
Ida Mitchell shared with
thousands of fortunate
visitors the cool beauty of
the caverns’ magnificent
“draperies” and “coral
isitors to Providence Mountains State
Recreation Area are greeted by the sight
of jagged slopes of gray limestone, topped
by volcanic peaks of red rhyolite. Located
on the eastern slope of the Providence
Mountains Range, the park lies within the
boundaries of the 1.6-million acre Mojave
National Preserve. From its vantage point
at 4,300 feet above the valley floor, the park
headquarters offers stunning views of the
surrounding Mojave Desert. On extremely
clear days, the distant granite peaks of
Arizona’s Hualapai Mountains are visible.
The park has the oldest known rocks of
the State Park System—pre-Cambrian
granitoids as old as 1.7 billion years. These
ancient rocks can be seen as outcroppings
on the slopes below the dark to creamy gray
limestone of the Bird Spring Formation. The
contact between the pre-Cambrian rocks
(gneiss) and the overlying Paleozoic Bird
Spring Formation was created by movement
along the East Providence fault. The Bird
Spring Formation represents a 50-millionyear period of quiet stability—when this
region was covered by a warm, shallow sea
that left abundant shell-covered organisms
on the sea floor.
The shells and plant materials that settled
on the sea bottom eventually became
limestone. As the restless land heaved
upward, these formations were pushed
above the level of the former ocean bed.
Fountain Peak and Edgar Peak, at the
westernmost edge of the park, stand nearly
7,000 feet above sea level. These peaks
are composed of Jurassic-aged Fountain
Peak Rhyolite, which intruded into the
limestone about 150 million years ago. Over
time, the overlying rocks eroded and were
transported bit by bit to the expansive
basins of today’s Mojave Desert.
About 12 million years ago, this area was
much wetter than today and covered with
luxuriant vegetation. Rainwater seeped
through the soil, absorbing carbon dioxide
and forming a weak solution of carbonic
acid. The acid dissolved the underlying
limestone, enlarging cracks and pockets
that eventually joined to form subterranean
chambers and passageways. Over thousands
of years, the water table dropped, emptying
the caverns and leaving the area intensely
dry. Small amounts of groundwater became
saturated with dissolved calcium from
Travertine (limestone cave deposits) forms
“draperies” on the walls at Mitchell Caverns.
the limestone parent rock. As the water
evaporated, it left behind thin layers of
calcite crystals. Over millennia, these
countless drops of water created the fanciful
and intricate formations that make up
The Chemehuevi (pronounced Chem-eWAY-vee) people, a branch of the Southern
Paiute, have lived in the area of
Providence Mountains SRA for at least 500
years. Known among themselves as Nüwü,
or the People, they migrated into the area
beginning about 1,000 years ago.
When the Spanish arrived in the late
1700s, they were the first to document the
Chemehuevi as a distinctive group of people.
Modern local Chemehuevi live and work in
Twentynine Palms, Banning, and Indio.
Father Francisco Garcés, the first European in
the area, crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776
on his way to the San Gabriel Mission. Fifty
years later, Jedediah Smith and a party of
trappers took the same route. The proximity
of water sources governed the construction of
wagon roads and settlements, and remnants
of some wayside camps are visible today.
The Providence Mountains were named by
travelers who believed that abundant water
sources had been “sent from Providence.”
Around the early 1860s, word got out that the
area was rich in mineral deposits. Thousands
effectively. Some eventually took
menial jobs in mining camps.
The years of greatest prosperity
for the mining industry were
from 1870 to 1893, when the U.S.
government was buying up most
of the silver ore at high prices.
When the government stopped
buying large amounts of silver,
the industry began its decline.
Small mines closed, and in the
economic recession of 1907, mining
During the late 1920s and early
Jack and Ida Mitchell at cavern entrance, ca. 1940
1930s, people periodically attempted
to prospect in the abandoned mines.
of prospectors arrived, seeking their share of
A few would-be miners brought their families
the silver, lead, gold, and copper they had
with them, taking up residence in abandoned
heard about. Soon the area was home to
tent cities—some of which became
In 1929 amateur silver miner Jesse E.
The arrival of miners devastated the culture
“Jack” Mitchell, on a trip to the Providence
of the native people. Water and food sources
Mountains, visited two limestone caverns
were overtaken by the new arrivals, and
locally known as the “Crystal” or “Providence”
the Chemehuevi were powerless to resist
Caverns. The idea of turning
these caverns into a tourist attraction
(hollow, crystal-lined rocks), petroglyphs
(rocks covered with prehistoric art work),
Mitchell staked mineral claims on what are
speleothems (cavern limestone), limestone
now the Mitchell Caverns in 1930. In 1932,
with fossils, and bits of glass.
nearly ruined by bad business ventures,
A New State Park
Jack and his wife Ida moved to the desert to
Beginning in the 1940s, Ida Mitchell
try prospecting for silver. To keep his claims
petitioned the California Division of
valid according to mining law, Mitchell
Beaches and Parks to add Mitchell Caverns
needed to show ongoing progress. He built
to its inventory of parks. Following Jack
tunnels, shipped ore, and hired an attorney
Mitchell’s death in 1954, the State
to file patents on the claims.
of California agreed to accept
Mitchell’s dream of sharing the beauties
Mitchell Caverns as a state
of the caverns stayed alive, and lack
reserve. In 1972 the caverns
of money did not stop him. While he
and reserve became part of
constructed stone houses and other
Providence Mountains State
buildings, he and Ida lived in the
mines. The rocky, dry terrain was
nearly impassable, so Mitchell moved
The plants growing in the
rocks with hand tools, creating a
Desert are tough
four-mile trail from an existing road
survivors, and many are
to his property. To bring water to his
prized for their medicinal
property, he laid pipe from a spring ¾
of a mile away in a steep canyon down
piñon pines, junipers, and
to the house he had built.
scrub oaks thrive in the canyon above
Over the next 20 years, Jack and Ida did
Crystal Springs. Drifts of wildflowers, such
not amass much wealth; most of their income
as the perennial Mormon tea, can be
came from the $1-per-person fees they
seen in spring. Other species include the
charged tour groups, and from the meals
evergreen cliff rose, Mojave and banana
that Ida cooked for their visitors.
yucca, and barrel cactus.
Four of Jack’s buildings, made from found
materials, still stand in today’s park. The
Mitchells’ native-stone home is now the
The animal species occupying this
visitor center. Mitchell built three other guest
landscape include badgers—aggressive
buildings—two stone guest dwellings and a
carnivores that prey on the park’s antelope
small, rounded stone structure sometimes
squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and small
called “the igloo” that Jack Mitchell termed
rodents. Various lizard and snake species
“the Honeymoon Cottage.” The rocks he
do well in this habitat. Rarely, bighorn
used for the buildings included geodes
sheep are seen, and predators such as
mountain lions, coyotes, gray foxes, and
bobcats hunt in the dark hours. Plentiful
bird species include Gambel’s quails, piñon
jays, roadrunners, and cactus wrens.
Inside the caverns,
elusive cave species include
Townsend’s big-eared bats.
Many cavern dwellers are
nearly invisible. Tiny crablike creatures are called
Spider-like Niptus beetles are
found only in the El Pakiva Cave at the
caverns but nowhere else on Earth.
Climate—Dress in layers and carry
water on outdoor walks. Spring and fall
temperatures reach the 70s and 80s.
June through August temperatures often
exceed 100 degrees. The caverns maintain
a constant 65-degree temperature
throughout the year.
Cavern Tours—Spectacular and intricate
limestone formations include stalagmites,
stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies,
curtains, and popcorn. On busy weekends
and holiday weeks, tours often sell out.
Call the park first at (760) 928-2586 for
updated tour information and to begin
the group tour reservation process.
• In order to protect the fragile
limestone formations, the caverns
may be seen only on guided tours.
• Bring your own drinking water—the
park’s water supply is limited—and
extra food and gasoline. Gas stations
and stores are many miles away.
• Respect the desert climate. Dress
appropriately for extremes of
weather; winter can bring high winds
and cold, wet or even snowy weather.
• No smoking is allowed on trails, in
the caverns, or during tours.
Reservations for group tours should be
made three weeks in advance.
Trails—The Mary Beale Nature Trail, near
the visitor center, is a self-guided moderate
walk. The half-mile Niña Mora Trail is
named for the child of a Mexican silver
miner who worked here in the early 1900s.
The trail passes near the child’s grave
marker and offers matchless views of
Restrooms—A unisex restroom at the
west end of the campground also serves
the visitor center. A drinking fountain and
telephone are nearby.
• Pets must be under a person’s
immediate control and on a leash no
longer than six feet at all times. They
must not be left in vehicles under
any circumstances. Clean up after
• Do not enter caves or mines
without a permit or approved
• Stay alert and watchful for
rattlesnakes, cactus spines, and tree
thorns. Stay on trails for your safety.
Visitor Center—Both the visitor center and the
route of travel between the parking lot and the
visitor center are accessible.
Cavern Tours—Visitors may need assistance
with slopes and uneven surfaces on the 1.5mile round trip tour. The inside path is firm and
stable. Many stairs are of uniform height, and
there are some handrails in the caves. Some
passages are as low as 62 inches tall and as
narrow as 14 inches wide.
MITCHELL CAVERNS MAP
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE
Escape from the dry, hot landscape
into the cool caverns; their intricate
dripstone forms will capture your
imagination. Visitors walk through the
two main caves, which Mitchell named
El Pakiva (The Devil’s House) and
Tecopa (after a Shoshonean chieftain).
Admire the stalactites flowing from the
ceiling like draperies, the beautiful
cave shields, and the staunch
stalagmites—formed when mineral
deposits dripping from the stalactites
built up from the floor, sometimes
meeting to form a solid column.
Marvel at the graceful waterfall
shapes of flowstone, left behind when
water seeped down the stone walls,
over rocks, and down onto the cave
floor. You will also see rimstone dams,
thin calcite deposits that formed
around the edges of ancient pools
of water. The small clusters of knobs,
found in only seven caves around the
world, are called coral pipes.
Among the most curious formations
are helictites, which take random,
gravity-defying shapes. These delicate
features curve and seem to wander in
various directions, the likely result of
capillary forces working on infinitesimal
water droplets, where the capillary
forces are stronger than simple gravity.
S t at e Re c r e at i o n Ar e a
Joshua Tree NP
P R E S E RV E
M O U N TA I N S
(No Visitors Allowed)
© 2010 California State Parks (Rev. 2017)
Mitchell Caverns T
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M O J AV E
N AT U R A L P R E S E R V E
P R E S E RV E
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This park receives support in part
through a nonprofit organization.
For information, contact the
Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert
P.O. Box 1408, Lancaster, CA 93584-9008
P R E S E RV E
N AT U R A L
M I T C H E L L C AV E R N S
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