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Mitchell Caverns
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Mitchell Caverns

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  • 1. Mitchell Caverns Wonder of the Mojave Desert
  • 2. Providence Mountains State Recreation Area • 100 mi east of Barstow; 60 mi west of Needles • Contains 20 known caves, including Mitchell Caverns • 5,900 acres in eastern Mojave Desert • elevation range: 3,400 - 7,171 ft
  • 3. Mitchell Caverns • Located at Park headquarters • 4,300 ft with view of surrounding land • Dimensions – 300 ft below surface – several hundred ft long • 65° year round • Only limestone caves in the CA park system • Electrically lit, paved walkways
  • 4. The Caverns • 2 caverns may have been continuous but filled in by calcite deposits • Passage created in early 70s • Winding Stair Cave also included in park – Used for practice cave rescues • El Pakiva – ‘house of the devil’ or ‘pool of water from the eye of the mountain’ • Tecopa – Legendary Shoshone chief
  • 5. What’s the difference between a cave and a cavern, anyway? According to the National Park Service, not much: Cave: An underground chamber or cavity created by natural means. Cavern: A large cave or a cave of indefinite extent. Considered by some cave geologists as caves formed by solution.
  • 6. Geologic History Precambrian Era Underlying granites and metamorphic rocks formed Paleozoic Era Series of limestones and sedimentary deposits created by shallow seas Creation of Bird Rock Formation that contains Mitchell Caverns Mesozoic Era Laramide Orogeny creates area mountain ranges Limestone units uplifted, tilted, cracked Volcanic lavas Uplift and erosion
  • 7. Formation of Caverns • About 12 Ma: – Area had wetter climate; rainforest – Organic groundcover makes rainwater acidic – Carbonic acid seeps through ground; dissolves limestone • Climate change – Water table lowers – Environment for creating speleothems – Calcite-rich water precipitates when caverns are not water filled
  • 8. Rare and Exciting Speleothems • Coral Pipes – small, cylindrical formations – pebbles allow for erosion into silt pillars – pipes created when travertine deposits on silt pillars – only found in 8 caves worldwide – rare because flow of water must cease at critical point • Cave Shields – 3 ft wide, 1/2 in thick, semicircular sheet of calcite – formed when water seeping in from a crack in the walls deposits layers of calcite – only found in 60 caves in the US
  • 9. Fairly Nifty Speleothems Flowstone (travertine): formed by flowing water. Cave coral (popcorn): knobby clusters of calcite or aragonite Stalagmites: formed up from the floor, generally beneath a stalactite. Helictites: deposit that generally spirals as it grows, seems to defy gravity. Stalactites: formed on ceilings.
  • 10. Wanted: Dead or Alive • Probably last growing significantly at the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 yrs ago) • Long thought to be ‘dead’ • Currently active only during heavy rains • ‘Normal’ growth rate: 1 inch/20 yrs • Mitchell growth rate: 1 inch/10,000 yrs
  • 11. Cave Life • Townsend’s bats – relocated after installed passage created airflow changes – after airlock put in, started to return • Rare spider beetle • Prehistoric Ground Sloth – 15,000 yrs old; from Pleistocene time – also fossilized tissue of giant redwoods, tropical ferns from this time
  • 12. Chemehuevi Indians • 500 years • ‘Eyes of the mountain’ • Evidence – cavern walls blackened by smoke – pottery shards, arrowheads, hidden food and tool caches found • Thought to be used seasonally for shelter and storage • ‘young boys were probably left in the darkness of the caves as part of a coming-of-age ritual’; ‘came to harvest pinyon nuts in a five-year nomadic cycle’ • Way of life changed with introduction of miners, explorers, etc. • Currently live on reservation by Colorado River
  • 13. Crystal Cave and Ghost Stories Jack and Ida Mitchell • Moved to desert – Early 1930s – Came because of Depression • Decided to develop caverns commercially – Prospecting silver not profitable • Improvements to area – Stone buildings, including current park headquarters – Built 23 mi road to caverns • Explored caverns; stuck in Winding Stair Cave for 2 days • Gave tours of the caverns – Known for candle lit tours; ghost stories
  • 14. Birth of a Park • Park transferred to state 1954 • Kept a state entity according to CA Desert Protection Act of 1994 • By 1950s, Mitchell could no longer care for caverns • Entered negotiations with CA • Died before negotiations complete
  • 15. Oliver Stone and Mitchell Caverns? • Scene from 1991 film “The Doors” shot in the caverns • Controversy over pictographs added to walls – Couldn’t be removed at first – Hired special team to flush paint out of walls • Initiated more interest in the caverns • Other recent events: – Earthquake in October 1999 temporarily destabilized roof/trail – Reopened 2000