Carlsbad, New Mexico was our next home for two nights. We arrived at Carlsbad RV Park & Campground on 4/26/2017 at about 4 PM after a four hour drive from Marathon, TX. We got signed in and had the camp set up by 5 PM which put us in perfect shape to get to Carlsbad Caverns National Park with the Jeep before the start of the “Bat Flight”.
We read about this program in a book about the National Parks that our friends Mark & Stacy gave us just before we started this adventure almost two months ago (and, yes, we are still talking to each other!). We read that each night a huge bat colony departs from a certain cave opening at dusk and returns to the same place at dawn. This happens every night, weather permitting (evidently, the bats don’t fly if it’s raining) but only during the bat flight season. You see, these guys travel to South America for the winter and return to New Mexico in the Spring. For some strange reason, though, they don’t realize that our calendar says that spring begins on March 20th this year. Rather, they have the unmitigated gaul to return to NM based on the weather patterns and temperatures. Well, that meant that we may or may not get to see this spectacle since we arrived here earlier than the formal Park Ranger-lead program starts for the season.
We were so excited to witness this event and hopeful that at least some of the bats were back. Although the formal Park Ranger-lead program would not start for about a month, at least fifty hopeful observers had gathered in the amphitheater while we awaited dusk’s arrival. A Park Security staff member came to tell us that some of the bat colony had returned and that we may get to see them exit the cave because the weather was conducive to them feeding patterns.
Just after dusk, it began! First we could hear a swooshing sound coming from deep within the cave. Then, swirling and rushing, like a funnel cloud, up out of the huge cave opening came a steadily increasing progression of bats. They start in a super-tight formation, flying in a circular motion that expands as they gain more altitude. Once they reach the top of the cave-side cliff, swoosh, off into the night sky heading south. Amazing! We were within fifty yards of the cave entrance and we could see, hear and smell the bats as they kept coming up and out to start their nightly flight in search of food and water. Due to the extraordinary hearing abilities of the bats, we were not allowed to take any pictures after sunset. Here are the few we did take prior.
Turns out, according to the Park Security guard, the bat colony is about 300,000 strong and roughly half had already returned for the season. An incredible sight to witness!
The next day we visited Carlsbad Caverns. It is nothing short of spectacular and I doubt that the pictures we are sharing with you will do it justice. We will let you be the judges of that.
Just to share a little info about the caverns with you, we walked in through what is called the Natural Entrance (the same cave entrance that the bats exited the night before) that routed us past the Bat Cave at about 200’ below the surface, then on to Devil’s Spring, the Devil’s Den at about 500’ down, through the Main Corridor past Witches Finger and Iceberg Rock and many other features before reaching The Big Room at more than 750’ below the surface. Just the Big Room covers more than 8.2 acres of space. The temps in the caverns are about 56 degrees year-round. These caverns are massive, enticing, enchanting and more spectacular than any others we’ve visited to date.
Enjoy the pictures! (Remember, these were taken underground in very low light conditions…)