Providence Mountains

Park Brochure

brochure Providence Mountains - Park Brochure
Providence Mountains State Recreation Area Our Mission 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 interp@parks.ca.gov. 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 www.parks.ca.gov Providence Mountains 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 pipes” formations. V 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. PARK HISTORY Geology 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 Mitchell Caverns. Native People 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. Europeans 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. Mining 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 investment stopped. 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 mine buildings. tent cities—some of which became Jack Mitchell permanent settlements. 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 excited Mitchell. (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 Recreation Area. mines. The rocky, dry terrain was Vegetation nearly impassable, so Mitchell moved The plants growing in the rocks with hand tools, creating a Mojave 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 properties. Drought-resistant of a mile away in a steep canyon down Barrel cactus 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 Wildlife 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 ringtails—small, carnivorous raccoon-like mammals—and Townsend’s big-eared bats. Many cavern dwellers are nearly invisible. Tiny crablike creatures are called Niptus stingerless pseudoscorpions. beetle Spider-like Niptus beetles are found only in the El Pakiva Cave at the caverns but nowhere else on Earth. RECREATION 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. PLEASE REMEMBER • 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 desert grandeur. ACCESSIBLE FEATURES 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 your pet. • Do not enter caves or mines without a permit or approved prior arrangements. • 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 (aerial view) HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CAVERN TOUR 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. 00 A Barstow V S t at e Re c r e at i o n Ar e a Providence Mountains SRA E 1900 17 00 15 E 62 170 T San Bernardino 62 Joshua Tree 18 Joshua Tree NP Springs 1900 Salton Sea SRA Salton Sea 74 1900 P R E S E RV E PROVIDENCE M O U N TA I N S SRA C&K Mine (No Visitors Allowed) 10 2000 Employee Residences © 2010 California State Parks (Rev. 2017) 1800 12 1300 00 12 Mitchell Caverns T r a il 00 17 00 160 0 00 00 19 18 20 200 0 1800 00 1500 M O J AV E 13 N AT U R A L P R E S E R V E P R E S E RV E ry rail re T Esse N i ña 00 00 160 0 00 Paved Road 13 00 Park Building Trail Parking Preserve Area Picnic Area Parking Area Restrooms Telephone 0.25 0.5 0.75 Miles 0.4 0.8 1.2 Kilometers Locked Gate Trailhead Nature Trail Visitor Center 14 00 13 00 12 00 00 0 100 00 15 0 Overlook Unpaved Road 0 15 oad to 40 Accessible Feature 1600 140 ex R Legend 00 00 17 1700 Ess 0 1100 16 100 Meters d ss R oad Tecopa (Exit) 1800 1800 120 300 Feet 75 x Roa El Pakiva (Entrance) 1900 0 14 Acc e Cooks Well s vern ll C a che rail Mit T 15 2000 This park receives support in part through a nonprofit organization. For information, contact the Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert Interpretive Association P.O. Box 1408, Lancaster, CA 93584-9008 170 Mora Trail see detail map below 50 11 2000 25 0 Access Road Ma P R E S E RV E atu al N Be 200 100 0 N AT U R A L 2130ft 649m 00 M I T C H E L L C AV E R N S 00 Fountain Peak 1900 l 1100 M I T C H E L L C AV E R N S 18 Tra i Lower Parking Area 00 1400 N AT I O N A L ora P S TAT E R E C R E AT I O N A R E A 17 P Visitor Center P R O V I D E N C E M O U N TA I N S 00 Ro x se s E Niñ aM il Upper Parking Area 210 2183ft 665m 19 Tr a 0 Edgar Peak 00 1400 0 00 11 ra Mo Indio Hills Palms Cave of the Winding Stair (Closed) ña Ni Wildwood Canyon 10 Palm Lake 215 Perris Mount San SRA Jacinto SP 00 1600 R Silverwood 247 Lake SRA San Bernardino NF 66 Amboy S D E Twentynine Palms USMC Victorville 1900 M O J AV E N AT I O N A L 1300 40 Ludlow 15 1800 15 Fort Irwin 00 J Mojave National Preserve 13 O Providence Mountains 30 Mi 40 Km ad M 20 20 M l Nature T rail 10 0 0 1200 16

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