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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Bats at the Orient Mine

August 29th, 2011 · 1 Comment

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The most dramatic part of my visit to the Orient Land Trust last week was to see the outflight of perhaps 200,000 bats. Every summer evening from mid-to-late June through early to mid-September they fly out of the abandoned Orient Mine.

On my fourth visit last week to Valley View Hot Springs — the main part of the Orient Land Trust — I finally saw the outflight. They are Mexican free-tailed bats, and for the past 45 or more years the Orient Mine has been their summer home. Their presence blesses the San Luis Valley because every evening that they fly out of the cave the bats eat as much as 1,000 pounds of insects — including mosquitos.

This is the northernmost and largest bachelor colony of bats in North America. Their 1,100-mile trip from Brazil is the longest know migration of any bat species.

Nobody is quite sure how the Orient Mine got its name. But the name probably comes from old French or Spanish for east, because it’s on the east side of the San Luis Valley. This was one of Colorado’s largest iron mines from the mid 1800s to 1938. Later, the mine caved in and became an excellent home for up to a quarter of a million bats.

On the first evening of my visit volunteer guide Bob Steen came to Oak House, where I stayed. He offered to lead a group to the bat cave. But the evening was wet with danger of lightening strikes along the trail. And in such dark weather the bats often don’t fly out of the cave until after sunset. Like everyone else, I passed on the opportunity.

But the next evening was sunny, and Bob led a tour group there. I was the tour group. We hiked for about an hour and one-half up 700 feet to the cave at 9,000 feet. We got there at 6:30 p.m., and at exactly 7:04 p.m. the outflight began. During the next 10 minutes I witnessed one of the most spectacular natural scenes of my life.

The San Luis Valley and Sangre de Christo Mountains on the Trail to the Bat Cave

The San Luis Valley and Sangre de Christo Mountains on the Trail to the Bat Cave

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The Outflight Begins

The Outflight Begins

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The Bats Fly Overhead

The Bats Fly Overhead

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Bats Fly Over the San Luis Valley

Bats Fly Over the San Luis Valley

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In 10 minutes the spectacle was all over. These bats — our fellow mammals — were enjoying their dinner. After my hike back down to Oak House, I enjoyed mine.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 john // Apr 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I am sure that Brazil is more than 1100 miles from the bat caves, but maybe I am wrong or it was just a typo

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