I knew in advance of my visit to Providence Mountains State Recreation Area that it was already closed, and that in fact the gates to lock up this park were up even before the 70 parks on the closure list were announced last May. Nonetheless, I really do want to get to all 70 parks, and my travels through the desert brought me close enough to the Eastern Mojave to check it out.
Besides, I got the impression from the park's website that while Mitchell Caverns and the campsites were closed, there were still a couple of accessible short hikes.
So, I exited off of Interstate 40 and drove the desolate sixteen mile road toward the park. I did not pass a single vehicle en route. I passed the sign that said "Fee Area Ahead; Self Registration," which is what a number of the closing parks are currently doing. I had hope of a hike.
It was not to be. Right at the sixteenth mile, a gate blocked any further travel down the road. Any temptation to drive around the gate (through the cactus!) was hindered by wire fencing on both sides of the gate as far as the eye could see.
I parked the car in a small dirt turnout. A white sedan was parked there as well, with a fishing rod in the rear back window and a large black trash bag sitting next to it. It was a clear day, and while I couldn't see forever, I could see a long way, and no human being was in sight.
I walked around the gate. Roxy walked under it, stumbling on the grates of the cattle guard. Since I had allowed an hour or two to see what I could see, we began our trek, walking up the middle of the paved road. Obviously we didn't need to worry about traffic. Mountains lions, maybe. I kept Roxy close. Dogs have been known to be attractive, easy prey for the big kitties. As with bears, I enjoying knowing the cats are out there, but prefer not to get any closer than a good zoom lens shot!
The primary attraction at this state park is Mitchell Caverns. In 1932 during the depression, Jack Mitchell, his wife Ida and their three daughters escaped to the East Mojave desert when the bottom fell out of their Los Angeles real estate business. Jack decided to try prospecting, and staked his claim when he found silver deposits in the Providence Mountains. He also found caves.
When the silver deposits proved insufficient to support his family, Jack and Ida created a tourist attraction and campsite around the caves. The venture was a success. He constructed several stone buildings for lodging, one of which served as the park's visitor center until the recent closure. They provided food and guided tours of the caverns until 1954. By all accounts, Jack Mitchell was quite a yarn-spinner. Old-timers still remember his tall tales of ghosts, lost treasure and bottomless pits.
Visitors walked through the two main caves, El Pakiva (The Devil’s House) and Tecopa (after a Shoshonean chieftain) where they had close-up views of stalactites and stalagmites, cave ribbon, cave spaghetti and ﬂow stone. In the early days, tourists had to be nimble rock-climbers who waited for their tour leader to toss ﬂares into the darkness. Later on the caverns became equipped with stairs and special lighting.
I wouldn't be seeing any of that today, though. After walking about a mile, I could see the road curved up into the mountains. There was no sign of any stone buildings.
Aside from a few cactus wrens flitting through the low growing plants, there was very little animal activity. Not as much as a buzzard or raven graced the desert skies. No chirps or caws. No growls or roars. No lizards darting out from under rocks. It was beautifully quiet. I love quiet!
Today I would be satisfied with seeing a goodly number of my cactus friends. Hah! Just I what I need, more photos of cactus. I already have hundreds.
In addition to the creosote - the staple of desert plant life - was plentiful white sage and tumbleweed. Red and golden barrel cactus and the leafy spanish dagger agave created dimension and gave color to the long dry valley. And finally, the jumping cholla cactus made its presence known as I walked further up the road. They had been absence from my desert travels of the past few weeks. They may be my favorite cactus. Often in the sunlight, and especially at dusk, they look as though they are outlined in electric lights. They are beautiful and over the years they've only bitten me once!
Off in the distance against the eastern mountains I spotted some evidence of life. What appeared to be a small clump of RVs rested at the end of a dusty road.
I couldn't decide if it the thought of living in an environment like that made me feel peacefully isolated, or if it just reminded me of an episode of Breaking Bad.
It was time to go. I had a 300 mile drive back to Ventura before days end. I would have surely loved to see those caverns. Who doesn't like to explore caves? If Providence Mountains State Recreation Area ever reopens I will most certainly return. The high desert is a favorite place of mine in the winter.
Over the past few months as I've talked with folks about my State Park travels, a number of people have commented how "they" can't really keep people out of the outdoor parks, even when gated. And while this is true, I would have had to walk at least a couple of more miles before getting to the official park entrance at Providence Mountains. The same applies to other parks I've visited, like Castle Crag and Palomar Mountain. You can park your car along the road and walk in, but it will generally add 4-6 miles of walking on pavement before getting to the hiking trails. I doubt the average day-tripper would be inclined to do so.
My vote is for no gates!
I hope to see you at the parks.