Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fieldwork Friday on Sunday, or, How I Spent my July 4th (Yes, there's a sketch in here.)

Tomorrow I am off to lead workshops at the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, and three days after I return I head to Maine for two weeks. (Three days after I get back from Maine I leave again, but that's August, so we're ignoring it for now.)

Prep for all these workshops and travel is at a fever pitch, so when a friend suggested we "go do something" for the holiday I was a bit reluctant. But once we decided the "something" would be a visit to the Orient Mine to witness the nightly egress of 250,000 free-tailed bats... well... What prep? Do I have prep to do?

View to the southwest from the trail to the Orient Mine
The mine is in the San Luis Valley, the trailhead just over an hour from Salida. We were in and out of rain showers during our ascent to "the bat cave," but the cool temps made the steepish climb a lot easier!

The air smelled of sage and the scrub oaks were thick with towhees. Why the heck did I even hesitate about getting out here?

Almost there!
Just at dusk the sun made a crazy-intense appearance below the cloud layer. A long streak of golden glow sliced across the valley. Spectacular.

Can you say "future linocut"?
But then the bats!

We'd been sitting outside the mine for probably 45 minutes, watching naught but swallows and swifts and then suddenly the sky was full of bats. From time to time the flow over our heads and down the hillside was so intense and fast that it was like a summer rainshower... but of bats instead of raindrops.

I didn't get much for photos... nothing that would suggest the feeling of the spectacle, but...

This one's emiggenable so you can see the bats a wee bit better. Not much.
Best shot of the bunch.
I did, of course, say this was a Fieldwork Friday post... and yes, I did make a little sketch of the "Glory Hole," the main route the bats take out of the collapsed mine.

It was full dark by the time we made it back to the truck... but the adventure wasn't over even then! On the drive out via rocky backroad we flushed a couple of common nighthawks and probably six or seven common poorwills... the red reflections of their eyes in our headlights alerting us to their presence long before we saw the birds themselves.

No fireworks, parades, or loud parties for us... but I think we had the best July 4th ever.


  1. gorgeous photos! that view is amazing

  2. It's a great place, Jennifer... you should come visit! ;-)

  3. Yowza indeed! I love the bat photos, and the sketch of the glory hole with the sagebrush around it. You didn't mention the smell, which is what I remember most. (Not of the sagebrush either.) You used to smell the cave long before you reached the entrance. Has that changed?

    I hope CB is a great time, and I know Maine will be, if a bit full of teaching and your show and all that. Still, Maine & Egg Island in summer. How bad can that be?