“Can we Dad? Puh-leeeez?” I batted my eyes. We had planned to leave Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico before lunch and had gotten to the park around 3:00 AM after a long night of driving, so I knew my chances were slim.
My Dad was a fanatic for keeping to his perfectly-planned schedule, but his response was, “Why not?”
The most stunning natural phenomena I have ever seen and probably ever will, was decided on a whim. Our family would stay to watch the bats fly from their cave that night.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
It was a Wednesday night in June with perfect weather- 80 degrees, no humidity, and a gentle breeze, and we were sitting in the outdoor “bat amphitheater” facing the cavern. The ranger had been chattering on for an hour about bats. She debunked the popularized myths, teaching us that bats are vital to pollination, generally don’t have rabies, and are not out to get us.
As she was taking questions, the park’s “bat detector” started chirping. After a couple of seconds, the clicks became so frequent that the sound became more like that of static. Each noise represented a bat tripping a laser on its way out of the cave. The ranger rushed over to the machine and silenced it. At any minute the sky would fill with the world’s only flying mammal.
Before we saw them we could smell the sour guano and hear the bats’ faint clicking, almost overshadowed by the chirping of crickets.
When they finally came, it was spectacular, astounding, miraculous, enthralling. How can I describe it? Half a million Mexican free-tail bats were flying over our heads.
They flew out of the cave in a flurry. Each one circled around seven times counterclockwise, reaching speeds of 36 miles per hour, before beginning their ascent to 10,000 feet; and making me realize what a spectacular creature God had placed on this earth. Thousands of fluttering animals, thick as smoke, flew over our heads into the sky. You could follow one until it disappeared into the night or just lean back and stare at them all in amazement.
The amphitheater had been filled with spectators when we arrived, but by 9:00, less than an hour since the flight began, we had the few remaining bats to ourselves- even the rangers had left. My mom, dad, brother, and I just sat there and stared in amazement at the sky.
Later, exploring the museum, we learned about white nose syndrome, a terrible fungus which has killed several million bats already and is spreading quickly to more caves and more bats. Tormented by the itching fungus, hibernating bats leave their cave during the winter and, unable to find food, starve to death, and researchers don’t know how to stop it.
I realized at that moment that this is my calling in life. With a degree in biology, I could research the causes of white nose syndrome and discover a cure. I could save these creatures from destruction so that future generations will be able to continue gathering at Carlsbad Caverns to witness their magnificent flights.
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