Orient Land Trust
Bats at the Orient Mine
The spectacular view looking northwest from just south of the bat cave viewing area.
The Orient Mine was an iron mine that began operation in the mid 1800’s and was abandoned by 1938. For the last thirty years or more it has been the summer home for a colony (estimated between 100,000 to 250,000) of Mexican free-tail bats - Tadarida Brasiliensis. It is the northernmost and largest bachelor colony known in North America. This colony of bats has been a very popular educational tool for two decades. This includes a master’s degree earned by a student who lived at the mine and studied the bats for two summers. On summer evenings, many visitors hike to the mine (about an hour walk over fairly steep terrain) to witness the out-flight. In 2002, work was completed to improve safety and access to the “glory hole” where the bats emerge.
Orient Land Trust has worked with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Bat Conservation International, the Colorado Bureau of Mine Reclamation and other organizations to improve trails and signage for the location. At the same time, procedures are being developed to prevent too many visitors which could inadvertently harm the colony. The Orient Mine has been registered with the Colorado Natural Areas Program. People interested in finding out more about the bat colony or viewing an outflight should contact OLT.
Bat Watching At The Orient Mine
by Mark Hayes
Orient Land Trust is well known for its hot springs and spectacular views of the San Luis Valley. But do you know that it is also a great place for watching bats?
The Orient Mine north of Valley View Hot Springs is the summer home of a large colony of Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. This is the same species that uses Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. In the early 1980’s a study was done on the Orient Mine bats by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. They found that there were 150,000 or more bats that spent the summer in the abandoned iron mine. It was speculated that they migrate north from New Mexico, Arizona and perhaps Mexico in the spring and return to their winter roosts in the fall. The bats leave the mine in the evening and forage for insects over the San Luis Valley. The bats likely eat as much as 1,000 pounds of insects every night in the middle of the summer.
During the emergence, bats can be seen stretching south down the valley like a river. The bats begin emerging from the mine in the evening, sometimes shortly after sunset and at other times an hour before sunset. Two or three “waves” of bats emerge from the mine. As it gets darker it becomes more difficult to see the bats. Those who have watched the bats return to the mine after foraging say that they come back individually throughout the night and a few can be seen returning as the sun rises. When the bats return to the mine, they often drop rapidly from great heights opening and closing their wings to slow down before reentering the mine.
A lot of work was done at the Orient Mine several years ago. Trail improvements were made and the area around the mine was made safer by the installation of a new fence. Interpretive signs were installed in 2005 describing the history of the mine, the bats and bat-viewing guidelines. Benches were also installed to facilitate viewing the outflight and to provide a rest before the hike back to Valley View.
The hike to the mine to view the bats takes about an hour or so, depending on your speed - there is a 700 foot elevation gain between Valley View and the Glory Hole. Please stop at the Welcome Center to check in before hiking to the mine - there is no charge to view the bats if you are not using the hot springs facilities. Plan to arrive at the mine 45 minutes to an hour before sunset; just follow the brown and white arrows to the Glory Hole. Watch as the bats fly from the north side of the pit. Be very quiet as noise is known to disturb the bats and please control your children and pets. Do not shine lights into the mine and avoid flash photography since excessive light can disturb the bats. Be sure to take a flashlight and extra batteries for the walk back, plus good footwear, water, and a jacket or raingear depending on weather conditions. Free guided tours start from the Welcome Center on most summer nights. The bats are generally here from mid-June through mid-September depending on the weather. Call OLT at 719-256-4315 to make sure the bats are here when you are planning to visit!
1) Bats have rabies: Research indicates that less than ½ of 1% of all bats are rabid. You have a greater chance of getting hit by lightning than being bitten by a bat.
2) Bats are blind: Actually, all bats can see.
3) Bats can get caught in your hair: Bat echolocation is more sophisticated than military sonar. It is so refined that bats can detect something as fine as a human hair.
4) A bat is a flying mouse: Bats are NOT rodents. They are the only mammals that have evolved true flight. Some bats, like the Mexican Free-tailed, are adapted to quick flight, flying over 40 miles per hour.