Visitors or residents know that when it comes to recreational fun on the Colorado River, Bullhead City is the place to be. Few, however, know that Bullhead City is centrally located to a vast and diverse array of all season outdoor recreational opportunities.
But one of Bullhead City’s best kept secrets is that with a short scenic drive it is possible to beat the heat with an adventure in the land down under. Mitchell Caverns in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is less than 85 miles to the west.
Mitchell Caverns had been used by the Chemehuevi Indians used for ceremonies and food storage before the arrival of Spanish and American explorers. Bones of a Pleistocene-age ground sloth found near the entrance indicate that the caverns had provided shelter to people more than a thousand years ago.
Mitchell Caverns is actually a system that consists of three caves. They are “El Pakiva,” or the Devil’s House, and “Tecopa” named for a Shoshone chief. The deep and nearly vertical “Winding Stair Cave” is deemed to dangerous for general public admission. It is off limits except for previously approved and authorized scientific explorations.
In the 19th century prospectors visited the caverns in search of silver, or treasure, and found respite from the desert heat. In 1932, Ida and Jack Mitchell moved from Los Angeles to the Providence Mountains in the Mojave Desert. A small home was built, Jack purchased the property with the caverns and began prospecting in the surrounding desert.
As the caverns were located near U.S. 66, Jack decided that there might be more money in the pockets of tourists than in prospecting. He built a road to the site and built rustic stone cabins for overnight guests.
The venture was moderately successful, but this was during the Great Depression and so a steady income stream was a rarity. Using kerosene lanterns and then flashlights Jack provided tours into the cool, dark depths with its natural wonders.
The state bought the caves in 1954. The caverns became the focal point of the 6,540-acre Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. Electric lights and paved trails were added to ease access. The Mitchell’s home was expanded and renovated to serve as the visitors’ center. The access road was paved.
Located west of Needles, California the caverns are easily accessed from I40. At the Essex Road exit turn north and follow the Mitchell Caverns/Providence Mountain signs. Near the highway is a kiosk that provides information about the 1.5-million-acre East Mojave National Scenic Area. As a side note there are legislative initiatives to have the are designated as Mojave National Park.
The drive to the caverns is about sixteen scenic miles. At the parking area where the road ends near the visitor center, there are unhindered panoramic desert views. It is a photographers paradise.
Resultant of COVID 19 closures, the caverns is reopening with limited hours and reservations for turs are required. For more information contact Mitchell Caverns at 760-928-2586 on Mondays between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
And for more information about recreational opportunities in the Bullhead City area, contact the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America