The Jornada Bat Caves of Armendaris Ranch, NM
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The caves were formed from solidified lava conduits or tubes which fused together in an arch, becoming a huge cave. These are the second largest known lava tubes on the North American continent, and are unusual as one tube is on top of another.
From June to September, an estimated 1.6 million bats utilize the two lava tubes as their "cave home" and every evening at dusk a "river of bats" emerge to feed. The average number of bats using the caves on a regular basis varies from 200,000 to 500,000, but as many as five to eight million hang around in it during migration and in years of high insect population.
I was invited to join Hawks Aloft, Inc., a raptor rescue organization, on an overnight expedition to the bat caves. Our adventure began at the Armendaris Ranch headquarters where we all piled into four 4-wheel drive vehicles and headed for the caves.
We were able to see lots of wildlife along the way, Oryx, Pronghorn Antelope, Bison, several species of hawks and other birds, along with hundreds of millipedes!
We meandered through the massive lava flow and after about an hour and a half we arrived at the bat caves.
There are two entrances to the caves, and everyone headed to the southern entrance; but it was still early in the day so the bats weren't even thinking about coming out into the hot sun (smart bats!) We decided to go ahead and set up camp and avoid the sun ourselves.
Camp was maybe a couple hundred feet from one of the cave entrances and the smell of bat urine permeated the air.
800 tons of bat guano was harvested from the caves from 1899 to 1902, with sporadic removal of smaller quantities up until 1938, when all mining ceased.
While working at the mines, the guano miners built several home-like structures out of the surrounding lava rocks, which are still partially standing today. We camped right in front of one.
About dusk we gathered at the northern cave entrance to wait. After a while movement could be seen in the mouth of the cave. Bats were swirling around, but not leaving yet.
Then we looked over at the other entrance, a few hundred yards away, and the bats were already emerging. It was an absolutely awesome sight to see, thousands of bats flowing like a river in the air! Hawks were also soaring above the bats and diving through, easily picking off their next meal. This mass exodus of bats continued for hours.
We weren't the only ones on the ground interested in the bats, there was a Grey fox near the cave entrance that seemed quite content to let us watch her. Free food falling from the sky equals one happy fox! Bats that happen to fall are not able to just take off again from bare ground, they must climb up on something and drop off flying. There were probably more animals taking advantage of the situation, but the only other one we saw was a pretty large Western Diamondback rattlesnake hunting down his next meal.
We camped out in the open air and all night long we could hear bats whizzing over us! It was so cool! Good thing there weren't any Vampire Bats!
The next morning was equally as amazing, if not more so. The bats were returning home at break-neck speed. The sound of them zipping into the cave was something to behold!
It rained a bit during the night, on some sections of the ranch, so the roads were full of standing water, but still passable. We got a little muddy!
Since the bat caves are on Ted Turner's private ranch you will have to book your tour at: http://tedturnerexpeditions.com. If you get a chance to go, The Jornada Bat Caves of Armendaris Ranch are well worth visiting!
Here are some videos of thousands of bats leaving the cave in the evening, thousands of bats returning the next morning, a hawk catching bats and the little Grey Fox playing...
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