Lonely Planet Writer

Mojave Desert’s spectacular Mitchell Caverns reopen after years of closure

After a seven-year closure, and $1 million of repairs to the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, California’s dramatic Mitchell Caverns will reopen this November.

Visitors on a guided tour at Mitchells Caverns
Visitors explore Mitchell Caverns. Photo courtesy of California State Parks

This mysterious and historic subterranean area located in the Mojave National Preserve is filled with otherworldly limestone shapes and ancient stalactites and stalagmites, which grow less than 10cm every one thousand years. The cave was once used as a shelter for the Native American Chemehuevi people, some 500 years ago, but the structure itself dates back to the Ice Age, and is at least 11,000 years old.

Entering the caverns is “like walking back in time. It’s a time capsule,” explained Russ Dingman, District Superintendent of the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. “It’s so unique and special – it’s truly one of the hidden jewels of the state park system,” he continued.

Next month, visitors to the park can go on a 1.5-hour guided tour with a State Park Interpreter, who will lead them along an upgraded trail (approximately one mile) to the cavern, over a new 50ft fiberglass bridge, and around the caverns lit by recently installed LED lighting – where guests will see helictites, and weird formations resembling lily pads, popcorn, and draperies.

Mitchells Caverns reopen to the public
Stalactites at Mitchell Caverns. Photo courtesy of California State Parks

“There is a spot where we turn off all the lights and turn on a black light, so you can see the ring formations, and how the stalagmites were created,” revealed Dingman. “There are two grand caverns that are arched and protected, but it gets cosy in other spots as the trail meanders through the caverns. There are areas you have to squeeze through that are a little tight,” he continued.

Visitors can also enjoy improvements to trails around the area – with an abundance of desert wildlife and plants – plus a refurbished visitors’ centre with interpretive information. “The visitors’ centre overlooks the Mojave Natural Preserve, it’s quite breathtaking,” said Dingman.

Mitchell Caverns open again after seven years
Mitchell Caverns reopen to the public after major upgrade. Photo courtesy of California State Parks

The Mitchell Caverns were closed in 2010 due to infrastructure issues; while the caves themselves remained fully intact, the surrounding buildings were in disarray and the area’s water source had dried up. Authorities had to shut down the reserve to improve the structure and find a new well in the park.

The caverns will re-open on 3 November, admission to the park is $10 per vehicle ($5 for seniors). Tours are $10 per person ($5 per child/senior). Reservations will be open from 1 November and are highly recommended. Visit Providence State Recreation Area page on the California State Parks website for detail updates.