Keepers of the Caves
The Story of Mitchell Caverns
7 X. 9.5 format 175 pages
This expanded second edition features many new photographs, and restores the missing chapter on the famous botanist Mary Beal. It is one of the most enduring pioneer stories of the East Mojave Desert.
Today, and for the past two decades, the California deserts have been strictly regulated by federal and local governments. Weekend recreation and family vacationing are the main uses average citizens are permitted to pursue. In the more distant past, as when Jack and Ida Mitchell came to the desert, the desert was a "public domain." Hardy individuals could come to the desert to seek their fortune or merely to escape what they left behind, and they were left in peace to do that.
Most people who came to the desert were sojourners - they came for a time for whatever reason, then left. Others became beguiled by the infinite charm of this lovely and lonely land and stayed as long as they could or until the end of their lives. Many of these people turned into what are affectionately referred to as "desert rats." People come to the desert today searching for these desert rats because these unique souls are seen as an integral part of the desert mystique. However, most of the desert rats have passed on and new environmental laws and associated land use restrictions preclude any additions to their ranks.
Jack and Ida Mitchell came to the desert fleeing from the Great Depression, which had nearly ruined them economically. As with so many before them, they came with a sack of beans, a .22 rifle to shoot rabbits, determination to stick it out, and not much more. They knew about the caverns that now bear their name and, in fact, Jack had filed claims on them but had done no development work. They had a vague idea that they might be able to develop the caves into a tourist attraction and make some kind of living. "The rest is history," as the story goes, and this book contains Jack's accounting of that story.
Out of print since 1964, the book has now been printed again through the efforts the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association and the Mitchell family. Originally titled Jack Mitchell Caveman, this expanded second edition features many new photographs, restores the missing chapter on famous botanist Mary Beal and includes a foreword by renowned Mojave Desert historian, Dennis Casebier.
California's most remote state park, Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is the home of Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve. Nestled on the flank of the Providence Mountains, El Pakiva Cave and Tecopa Cave are limestone caves which nature has elaborately decorated with familiar cave formations such as stalactites, stalagmites and columns and more rare formations such as cave shields, helictites and coral pipes. Jack and Ida Mitchell, who created a small "resort" on the property, first opened the caves for tours in 1934.
Reviewer: Kristine Bonner, June 20, 2012
I thought this was a great classic desert read. The Depression, the desert, and gold fever all interact to change the course of Jack Mitchell and his wife Ida's lives. Their story of moving out to the desert and making a life is as southwestern as they come. The Mitchells survive, and then thrive due to courage, hard work, savvy, and a deep sense of decency apparent in all Jack Mitchell's tales. The desert itself and the Mitchell caverns, and all the guests who passed through the resort are vividly portrayed by Mitchell's writing. Although it takes a little while to get used to Mitchell's somewhat folksy style, by the end of the book, you feel you know him and Ida like family. Two thumbs up!
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