Mojave Desert Caverns To Reopen Following Years Of Repairs
Mitchell Caverns, a remote limestone cavern system in the Mojave Desert, has been closed since 2010 after budget cuts prevented the Parks System from replacing the patrol rangers for the area. In the years since the caverns closed, vandals ransacked the area, stealing equipment and wrecking the visitors' center. Now, after full renovations, the caverns will reopen to the public on November 3.
The caves were originally scheduled to open in May or June of this year, according to the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, but a faulty septic tank and continued trail work pushed the opening back to this fall. The caverns initially opened more than 80 years ago, according to the L.A. Times, and immediately became a major attraction for geologists and outdoor explorers.
Mitchell Caverns is located in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. Park Ranger Andrew Fitzpatrick, while talking to the Times, described the process of reopening the caves as fraught with "funding issues, delays and environmental requirements." The renovations include an updated water system for the area and LED lights for the interior of the caves ( the caverns used to be lit by incandescent bulbs).
The Caverns' closure elicited strong public outcry and prompted the formation of Reopen Mitchell Caverns, a non-profit whose goal was to contribute funds to the California State Parks system to aid the renovation process. John Marnell, a spokesperson for the nonprofit, told the Times that the delays were plentiful and painful, but that he "can’t wait to get back into the caves and let the improvements speak for themselves."
The nonprofit points out the caverns will be open Fridays through Sundays and on holidays. Daytime tours will be available, and reservations for those will become available November 1 (a phone number for reservations will be announced before then). The nearby campgrounds will not be open until 2018.
The Caverns are a unique exploratory opportunity in California. They are the only limestone caves in the California State Parks system and they have strong ties to the state's indigenous populations. The cliff face above the caverns' entrances are blackened from smoke, notes the Times, because the Chemehuevi Indians used the caverns for "shelter, storage and ceremonial purposes." Within the caverns, one can find massive stalagmites, limestone walls filled with crystals, and wildlife that don't rely on the sun to live (like Townsend big-eared bats!).
The caverns got their name from Jack and Ida Mitchell, a couple who staked mineral claim on the caverns in 1930 before turning them into a tourist attraction. They lived in the building that now houses the Visitors' Center until they sold the area to the state in 1954.