Mitchell Caverns are finally open to the public to tour, and it was well worth the wait. The fascinating ranger-led tour takes you through two of Jack Mitchell’s caves, El Pakiva (The Devil’s House) and Tecopa, for a better-than-Disney imagined trail through geology’s artwork: stalactites that flow from towering “ceilings,” waterfall-patterned flowstone, stalagmites under your feet and even a cave-dwelling animal or two. The newly paved trails with stairs and rails make the experience easy, and dramatic LED lighting dramatically captures Mother Nature’s spectacular artwork.
However, before you head out across the pristine Providence Mountains State Recreation Area to experience the majesty of Mitchell Caverns, there are some practical things to know:
- Make a reservation—NOW!
The phoning-on-Monday system will soon be replaced by an online reservation system, and it can’t come soon enough. Monday’s phone lines are busy (a lot!) and tours can be booked for months ahead. But there is hope…
- Get on the waiting list
No availability when you want to tour? The park service will do everything they can to get you on a tour, especially if you are already in the area. There are cancellations—sometimes an entire group, so you never know. Likewise, if you made a reservation and can’t make it, remember to cancel so that someone else can enjoy the tour.
- Fuel up
The nearest gas station is 23 miles away; the same with food. You cannot bring food or water into the caverns, but you will probably be thirsty (and hungry) when you emerge.
- Check the weather
The road to the touring center is subject to flooding when there has been heavy rain. Check the conditions before you take off.
- Arrive at least 15 minutes early
Better yet, get there a half hour early to enjoy the tour center’s interesting exhibits and sit on the terrace and take in the panoramic vistas.
- Bring cash—the exact amount
You can pay with a credit card if the machine is working, and they have no way to give you change.
- What to wear—and NOT wear
For sure, wear closed-toe shoes and bring along some layers. The caverns sit high in the mountains, and it can be chilly. Interestingly, the temperatures inside the caverns remain warmer when it’s cold and cooler when it’s hot. What not to wear? Anything you have worn into another cave in the last six years. There is a funny sounding disease you could be transmitting that is not at all funny to the bats that make the caverns home—White Nose Syndrome.
- The trail is not for everyone
Although the State has made the route to and in the caverns very easy, it is not ADA accessible. There are steps, steep grades and tight conditions throughout. Also, although children will love this tour, it isn’t really suitable for infants and cannot accommodate baby carriers. And, don’t bring your dog. Dogs are not allowed in the caverns, on the trails and never allowed to be left in your car unattended.
- Make your first trek the bathroom
The tour is lengthy—up to 2 hours long with 1.5 miles of walking/hiking. Trust me—you won’t want to turn around.
- Take your camera
You don’t want to miss capturing the majesty of these wonders, but make sure the flash is working—it’s very dark in there.
- Do more than tour the caverns
Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is a destination filled with geological wonders and scenic beauty, as well as top-notch hiking trails and camping in the Hole-in-the-Wall area of the park. Hole-in-the-Wall offers four hiking options with trailheads located at an information center, along with picnic areas and campground. See desert plants on the easy Nature Trail; look for petroglyphs on the Rings Loop Trail; grab an amazing vista on the Barber Peak Loop; and watch Opalite Cliffs sparkle in the sunlight on the Mid Hills trail.