To the bat cave! |

To the bat cave!

Craig Eley
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Craig Eley Contributed photo

“To the bat cave!”

Many of us old enough to remember the old Batman TV program can still hear Adam West as Bruce Wayne exhort Robin, the Boy Wonder, with these words. But this command is equally appropriate in Colorado, which boasts a cave with a quarter million bats that’s located just a few hours from Glenwood Springs, near Salida.

A visit to the bat cave makes for a great, inexpensive family getaway featuring hiking, beautiful landscapes, interesting flora, historical town sites and, of course, thousands of tiny flying mammals.

My daughter, Laura, and I made the trip a few weeks ago to the artsy burg of Salida and had lunch in one of the many downtown cafes.

We wandered over to the city park to watch kayakers and rafters in what the town calls its “river park.” This section of the Arkansas River is a mecca for whitewater enthusiasts nationwide, and watching these daredevils from the safety of the bridge over the river is a pleasant way to pass a sunny day.

Salida has numerous funky little art shops, as well as some high-end galleries that even the non-art lover will enjoy perusing.

We ambled down the quaint town streets for several hours, but eventually had to conform to the timetable of the bats, who wait for no human.

So we checked into a hotel and, at 4 p.m., headed south on U.S. Highway 285 about 27 miles to the town of Villa Grove. Four miles south of town, on 285, is the turnoff for County Road GG.

A sign says “Hwy 17 – Alamosa – Great Sand Dunes.” We turned left there and took the left fork, which was County Road GG (going to the right would have put us on Highway 17 to Alamosa and the Dunes). It headed due east, is paved for about 100 feet, then turns to gravel.

We drove seven miles down GG, through the flat, picturesque northern San Luis Valley, until we came to the Orient Land Trust (OLT) property.

Admission to view the bats is free, but everyone is required to check in at the visitor center. The center maintains displays that relate the history of the Orient Mine and the towns for the miners that were established near it, as well as information regarding wildlife likely to be seen in the area.

OLT maintains an extensive camping area, with small cabins and RV and tent sites.

To view the bats, we hiked 1.7 miles, which took us through the camping areas. We were warned that clothing is optional, as the OLT is a naturist camping facility. However, all of the hikers and almost all of the campers we saw were clothed.

The bats leave their cave at about dusk, and viewers are urged to get to the mine an hour before sunset. We had checked sunset times on the Internet, and we timed our arrival at OLT for three hours before dusk.

A free guided hike starts from the visitor center two hours before sunset, but we elected to start hiking up on our own three hours before dusk. This allowed us time to dally on the trail, taking in the beautiful vistas of the valley while doing some bird watching and photography.

The trail is an easy hike, but hikers should bring water, a flashlight and a jacket for when the air cools after dark.

The trail meanders through two abandoned company towns, of which only some building foundations remain. The footpath is replete with interpretive signs that relate the natural and human history of the area.

Deer, orioles, rabbits and other mountain denizens were delightful to observe as we hiked to the mine, which is an abandoned iron mine that operated from 1880 until 1932. Remnants of rail lines, mining equipment and ore tailings are visible on the way up to the mine.

The last quarter mile of the route is fairly steep, but even the most ardent couch potato can make it by taking it slowly.

At the mine entrance, there are benches to sit on while waiting for the bats to appear. The evening we were there, the bats started flying out a few minutes before sunset.

They don’t emerge in a huge, black tornado, but rather in a 20-foot wide ribbon that winds its way down to the valley below for an evening of gorging on flying insects. It was an amazing sight, and the sky stayed light long enough for us to see all of them materialize, a 20-minute process for the estimated 250,000 bats.

The bats are a “bachelor colony” (95 percent male) of Mexican free-tailed bats. Their associated females spend the summer months in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, N.M.

It was still twilight on the hike back down, so although we had flashlights, we didn’t really need them.

An unexpected surprise as we neared the visitor center (which is open until 10 p.m.) was spotting lightning bugs. In my 40 years in Colorado – I have been all over the state – I had never before seen the fireflies I delighted in during my Midwest childhood.

Hiking, history, wildlife, bugs and bats – the Orient Mine has it all. But get there soon – the bats leave at the end of summer and head south to get cozy with the Carlsbad contingent!

Craig Eley is a judge for the state of Colorado who resides in Denver.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User