Caves in Mojave

Guided Tour through Mitchell Caverns in Providence Mountains State Recreation Area

No one expects to see caves when they visit the desert, and that’s part of what makes Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert such an interesting place. It all started with an amateur silver miner, Jack Mitchell, who started operating cave tours to Route 66 adventurers. Not much has changed, except now the tours are operated by park rangers and the caverns are part of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area .

Two-hour tours to Mitchell Caverns start at the visitor center, where a park ranger will make sure you’re ready for the cave. All in, it’s about 1.5 miles of total walking distance, including a short ranger-guided hike to reach the cave entrance.

The cave is located on a “sky island,” which function similarly to real islands: just as a palm tree can’t grow in the ocean, the sky island has flora and fauna that can’t grow in the surrounding lowlands. So while the desert below is full of barrel cactus, Joshua trees, and yucca, the area around the cave entrance has piñon pines and junipers.

As you hike towards the cave entrance, you’ll get some of the best views of the Mojave Desert, thanks to the higher vantage point. Once inside the cave, the tour follows an even path with an occasional set of stairs. There are some low passages with ceilings of around 5 feet and some narrow passages as small as 14 inches wide, but for the most part it is very easy going.

The temperature inside the cave is quite comfy, staying at 65 degrees year round. The ranger leads the tour through Mitchell Caverns at a leisurely pace, passing by the wide variety of limestone cave formations that can be found inside the caverns, including stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies, curtains, and popcorn (don’t worry, the park ranger will be sure to point everything out!).

Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is open September to June, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday to Sunday and holiday Mondays. Park is closed in July and August. Access to the caverns is by tour only. Tour reservations can be made online at reservecalifornia.com; find this info on the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area website. Tour groups are limited to 15 people per tour due to the small size of some sections of the caverns, so be sure to book in advance. Don’t wear any clothing or shoes that have been in a different cave at any point in the last 5 years to help stop the spread of white nose syndrome in bats. Double-check map directions before entering the park. The park can only be accessed from Essex Rd., which can only be reached from the south via Interstate 40, exit 100 (Essex Rd.), or from the north via Black Canyon Rd., a dirt road crossing the Mojave Preserve. State Park entrance fee is included with the cost of the tour ticket. Bathrooms available in parking lot. Dogs permitted in picnic area but not in caverns or on trails.

Story and photos by Natalie Bates, @wanderwithnatalie

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