“I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden & Civil Disobedience
From my online journal (blog) The Daily Epiphany, from July 4, 2000, Tornado of Bats
Mostly we walked around the parking lots looking at license plates. Lee is still obsessed with getting all fifty states on his little license plate collection and I had told him the National Park would be a good place to find some more states. It was, we found a cornucopia of vehicles from all over. We were able to finish it all out except for what we knew would be the three most difficult states: Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Delaware.
Lee also was very overjoyed to find a dead rattlesnake in a drainage ditch.
The sun began to creep across the horizon, Candy and Nick came back, and we walked back to the natural cave entrance to watch the evening bat flight. They have constructed a good-sized stone amphitheater at that point and it was filling up fast.
The entrance sits in a sort of hollow and heads almost straight down in a large opening. The Ranger described it as toilet-shaped. As the hour grew later and later everybody became restless waiting for the bats to show. The Ranger explained that nobody knows how the bats, deep down in the depths of the cave, know when it is twilight outside and their arrival wasn’t always like clockwork. A thick cloud of pesky gnats was also driving everybody nuts.
Finally the Ranger announced that the bats were starting to come out and we all sat back to watch. The bat flight at Carlsbad is impressive. The bats don’t simply fly out of a hole and into the sky. They come up into that toilet-shaped area and go round and round in a vortex until they gain enough speed and altitude to stream out over the desert. They swirl in a tornado of bats.
It is an amazing sight and an even more amazing sound, the faint whir of hundreds of thousands of pairs of tiny wings. A gray flittering cone contrasted against the rock and cactus. I sat dumfounded at the beauty of it and the desert sunset.
The only thing that distracted the enjoyment was the idiot crowd. So many people were surly and restless and noisy – yapping and getting up and walking around – it was difficult to listen to the subtle sound of the bat wings. Most amazingly, they kept taking flash pictures. Again and again, the Ranger lectured us before the flight began, “No Flash Pictures! No Flash Pictures! If you have an automatic camera, the flash WILL GO OFF AND SCARE THE BATS, put it up! Put it up!” she’d say. Once the bats started flying, every thirty seconds or so… off would go a flash.
I doubt that the puny flash would upset the bats as much as the Ranger implied, but it is beyond belief that these idiots were doing this. One – she told us not to. Moreover, what are the morons taking a picture of? You can’t take a still picture of a bat flight – especially with a disposable camera. The bat flight is a moving, subtle, dark phenomenon. It was simply the jerk reaction of a tourist to snap a photo whenever confronted with wonder.
We sat around for maybe an hour until it became so dark the bats were almost invisible – we were one of the last ones to give up and leave the amphitheater. We drove back to our campsite at the tacky tourist hamlet outside the park. We were very tired and hungry – thank goodness a restaurant in the hotel was still open and served us watery spaghetti and a stale salad bar.
Wonder of wonders – as we walked through the darkened parking lot, there were only a couple of cars left, but Lee shouted with excitement, “Hawaii! Hawaii!” Sure enough, one of the cars had Hawaii license plates. Lee was tickled pink that he made this discovery, a car with Hawaii license plates in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert in southern New Mexico.
Now he only needs Rhode Island and Delaware.
And, without further ado, Today’s story:
I came to love the word karst while living in southern Indiana, which is also riddled with caves, not that I ever saw or heard bats like this while living there.
I read a very interesting book once – Dark Life: Martian Nanobacteria, Rock-Eating Cave Bugs, and Other Extreme Organisms of Inner Earth and Outer Space – which talked about Karst geography all over the world (China, Jamaica, Kentucky) – the author may be a bit of a nut – but the book really stuck with me.
Gotta watch where you step after reading something like that.