Continued from yesterday’s post, Relaxed and Not So Batty – Part 1.
We had arrived. Since becoming parents in 2001, Scott and I finally got the go-ahead to make reservations for our first weekend away in ten years — no kids. My
brave generous brother graciously offered to host all four of our kids for the weekend, just so we could relax and enjoy an adult weekend together, whatever we wanted to do.
Right on cue — at the 11th hour no less — our youngest came down with the croup. Bags already packed, giddy with the thought of waking up to no one else in our beds, we reluctantly canceled the anticipated weekend off. The companion super-high fever coupled with a potential for airway blockage (signature of the ‘croup’) required 24/7 monitoring, hopefully not resulting trip to the ER like the last time it hit.
It’s always something, isn’t it?
This summer is now a year later and the babysitting stars aligned once again. As luck would have it, both sets of grandparents agreed for a split — boys with one, girls with another — yet neither of us had any inkling as to what we could do for those four days. We hurriedly began looking into local hotels near the drop-off point in San Antonio.
Question: What does one do in the late summer and 100-degree temps of central Texas that doesn’t involve crowds of kids or otherwise loads of people and touristy attractions?
Answer: Cave exploring. Here’s the reasoning:
- Caves are cool, even when it’s hot. The humidity and temperature 180 feet down is a comfy 70 degrees.
- We are lovers of hiking, particularly when there’s elevation involved.
- Natural Bridge Caverns was in the immediate vicinity.
- Getting dirty and right up in nature’s business is just my thing.
My cousin, Elaine, over at American RV Life could not have timed her post on bat watching in central Texas at a better time! Is it possible she was giving me a poke-poke-nudge-nudge? I guessed it was. So in usual chit-chatty form, I called her.
“The Bat Lady,” as she’s lovingly known, was involved with Bat Conservation International (BatCon) in her past and has an affinity for these awesome creatures. She is to bats what perhaps I am to bugs. August, she urged me, is the perfect time to bat-watch; pups are just starting to fly, learning to hunt with their mothers. Bracken Cave is a renown nursery and migratory home to millions of bats annually and just recently opened for public tours — just the thing for a romantic weekend getaway.
How convenient, too! It’s right smack dab in the middle of the Natural Bridge Caverns area where we were already planning to go.
Up until recently, only BatCon people have been allowed to witness the nightly flight of millions of Mexican free-tailed bats. The largest single colony of bats in Texas — in the world — it’s simply a must-see while we can. BatCon owns the property including the cave and recently opened it for public tours to raise both money and awareness for a condition known as White Nose Syndrome that is decimating bat populations nationwide.
Twenty million bats can do some serious insect damage. We did the math (we always do, don’t we?). This colony alone consumes around 200 tons of insects each and every night; that’s a load of bugs! Bats are hugely important to our Earth’s ecosystem. They are the lone pollinators of some species of plants and they are particularly adept in keeping crop-damaging insect populations in check. (Uh, that would be our food, people.)
Don’t even get me started on mosquitoes and other biting flies.
White Nose Syndrome — caused by and named for the fungus that results in a powdery residue on their noses — is killing bats at an alarming rate. It is believed that it awakens bats from their hibernation early, causing them to starve to death. Alarming isn’t a strong enough word, I’m afraid. We’re talking declines of 80% in some colonies. The science community is only still learning about this disease, what caused it, and how serious the devastation on bat colonies really is. They do know that the bats’ decline is comparable only to the recent demise (a/k/a/ extinction) of the passenger pigeons at the turn of the last century.
Bats are intricately entwined in our working ecosystem. It is a serious cause and like many other alarm bells going off around the world, Homo Sapiens needs to quit hitting the snooze button. In naturalist and conservationist fashion, we promptly made hotel reservations in New Braunfels on the river and secured tickets to the cave tours on-line.
And we cross our fingers that nothing else would arise to squash our plans.
The river spot in New Braunfels was just what we needed. There were only 14 rooms at the inn and no kids under 13 allowed. Perfect. This made for a quiet relaxing spot no matter where we decided to park our booties. Wine on the balcony, Scrabble in the dining room, lounging by the river, or a short walk into the historic district for people watching. Lots of hand-holding and snuggling. We slept in every morning, and the inn-keeper kept the dining room stocked with homemade chocolate and carrot cakes which we couldn’t resist sampling. Several times a day.
We toured the caves and at dusk, witnessed the splendor of the Bracken Bat Flight. Photos and video really do not do it justice, though I hope you enjoy. It is an experience that is best enjoyed in person. Next time, I hope to be more prepared for low-light conditions and bring the tripod and cable release.
It was described to me as a tornado emerging from within a small hole in the ground. Tens of thousands of bats, all flying in a singular circular direction, working toward the entrance, then swirling off with smaller groups to spend the night in search of food. It was challenging to get a photo perspective; ‘tornado’ definitely works for description.
At one point, it felt as if they were all swirling around my head, instinctively making me put an arm to my face in reactionary defense. Bats just kept coming and coming and coming. The emergence — lasting well over an hour — didn’t seem to have an end to it.
We left before it was finished. And you know what? Not a single one got stuck in my hair.