A year ago we had the opportunity to experience a once in a lifetime thrill when we attended the evening bat show at Carlsbad Caverns. I struggle to even describe the thrill it was to sit quietly in that stone amphitheater and watch as millions of bats exited the caverns over our heads. It was awe-inspiring.
When we arrived in Fredericksburg, Texas we were told by the locals that before we left we needed to take the kids out to Old Tunnel State Park to see the nightly emergence of the bat colony that makes its home in the abandoned railroad tunnel located in the park.
After our experience at Carlsbad Caverns there was no way we were going to miss the opportunity to witness this awesome show by Mother Nature a second time and we made plans to drive out to Old Tunnel State Park on Saturday night after the wedding.
Knowing that the bats typically emerge to feed just before sundown, we made plans to arrive at the park by 8:00pm.
It was a beautiful drive through Texas hill country to get to the state park that was located 20 minutes away from downtown.
When we arrived the first clue that we had miscalculated the time was the wave of visitors leaving the park. It is never a good sign when you find yourself swimming upstream! It wasn’t until we made it over to the viewing pavilion and spoke with the park rangers, that our fears were confirmed.
They explained that although the bats usually emerge closer to 9:00 pm, lately they have been exiting earlier and earlier. They explained that the drought in the area makes hunting for insects more challenging for the Mexican free-tail bats, which means they have been emerging earlier than usual to get in their food quota each night.
We were disappointed to have missed the bats but stayed to enjoy the park with plans to return the following evening to catch the show.
While there we enjoyed checking out the cacti:
Catching up with family:
And enjoying a spectacular Texas sunset.
The next day we returned. We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss the bat show two days in a row so we arrived by 6:30 pm. And it is good that we did! Rather than the 7:25 emergence that occurred the night before, on Sunday they began making an appearance by 7:00 pm.
Here is a little information about this special show, as taken from the state park’s website:
Watching a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge is truly a special experience! During emergence, the bats spiral upwards in a counter-clockwise direction in order to gain altitude. Aerial predators, such as red-tailed hawks, are sometimes seen catching bats as they emerge, and terrestrial predators, such as raccoons, feed on fallen bats. The large, serpentine column of bats can travel as high as 10,000 feet and 60 miles, one-way, each night to feed on agricultural pests such as the corn earworm (a.k.a. cotton bollworm), cutworm, and webworm moths. Each bat can eat its weight in insects nightly, and the Old Tunnel colony may devour over 25 tons of moths per night!
There are two viewing options for the bat show:
Lower Viewing Area Tour
A close-up view of the emergence is one of the most unique experiences in nature. The flapping of millions of tiny wings is usually audible and often creates a light wind that can be felt by visitors in the lower viewing area. Lower viewing area tours are conducted Thursday through Sunday, May through October. An educational program is given about bats, with an emphasis on the fascinating life history of the Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana).
Seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis with a maximum seating capacity of 70 visitors. Reservations are not accepted. The activity tour fee for the lower viewing area is $5 per person ages 4 and up. Due to the bat’s sensitivity to noise disturbance, children age 3 and under are not allowed at the lower viewing area.
Upper Viewing Area
The upper viewing area, located adjacent to the parking area, is open nightly for use by the general public. The scenic view from the upper viewing area allows visitors to experience the rugged beauty of the Texas Hill Country. Many bicyclists, motorcyclists, and car clubs stop at Old Tunnel to enjoy this view. Bats are best viewed from this area during August and September, when bat emergence times are earlier and more light is present. Fantastic views of red-tailed hawks feeding on emerging bats can also be seen from this area. No fees are charged.
(To protect and conserve the resources and for the safety of our visitors, they only allow 250 people at the upper viewing area. If they reach that limit they close off the parking lot next to the upper viewing area and will admit more visitors to the upper viewing area as people leave. )
We felt the upper viewing area was a better fit for our crew so we got settled and waited for the show to begin.
Wow, what an experience! It was unreal watching those millions of bats flying out of the tunnel in a funnel of activity, soaring out of the trees into the skies above. Once again I found the experience affecting. There is something so humbling about watching the God’s greatness highlighted through nature’s displays of beauty.
And it was so special sharing the experience with my family.
What a awesome way to end our special weekend with the ones we love, in Fredericksburg, Texas!