Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Go Batty at the 54th Annual Bat Flight Breakfast at Carlsbad Caverns

July 6, 2011, 12:12 pm

By Naomi Legros

As the beginning of summer takes flight into a full-length adventure of fun and excitement, the annual Bat Flight Breakfast, a celebration of bats’ morning return flight, will be held at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park on July 16th, 2011 from 5 a.m to 7 a.m. This marks the 54th anniversary of the traditional early gathering of the many visitors and tourists who wish to view New Mexico’s peaceful morning skies with the beauty of its many species of bats. While the summer evenings are more popular to the public, when thousands gather to watch the bats spiral out of the cave, the morning sight captures a different kind of beauty, when the bats return to the cave, which keeps the yearly tradition going strong since its initial celebration in 1957.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers almost 47,000 acres and has 90 caves. It is open daily, year-round except for Christmas. For thousands of years, the cavern was used as a shelter for nomadic hunters and gatherers; while traces left by American Indians have also been found by archaeologists hundreds of years later. The region, which has been exposed to civilization as early as the 1500’s by Spanish explorers, didn’t start gaining its prominence as a site to look out for until the United States acquired the land that later became New Mexico in 1912. A cowboy and explorer, James White took an interest in the cavern when he witnessed a bat flight one day in 1901 and claimed “any hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a big cave." He continuously visited the cave, staying as long as three days at a time. His discoveries were initially mocked and not taken seriously, until a teenage Mexican boy started following White on his journeys. They found so many interesting artifacts, such as thousand-year-old skeletons and bat guano, a great source of rich nitrate fertilizer. As White became a guano miner in caves, he never faltered to bring the deserved recognition to Carlsbad Caverns. After 20 years, White finally achieved his goal when President Calvin Coolidge declared Carlsbad Caverns a national monument in 1923, and seven years later, it became a national park.

The bats themselves have been one of the most exciting aspects of the larger-than-life national park. As many as seven different species live in the caves, none as prevalent as the Brazilian Free-tail. Coming in shades of brown and gray, the Brazilian Free-tail is one of the most abundant mammals in North and South America. The name derives from the fact that they have a long membrane and one-third of their tail extends beyond their legs (with a length of nine centimeters and only weighing 15 grams, that’s one long tail we have here!). They are super fast, and can live up to 18 years.

Be a part of the tradition and take home an experience that will leave you breathless. So you might have to wake up earlier than you’re used to--it’s only one day out of the other 364 days of the year that you will surely make up for!

For more information about Carlsbad Cavern, check out the National Park Service’s website where you can learn more about planning your visit to the caves, the best time to see the flights, the rules regarding the safety of each other and the bats during the event and other interesting facts.

Image: Each evening in summer, nearly 400,000 Brazilian free-tail bats exit Carlsbad Cavern in search of a smorgasbord of insects for dinner. Source: NPS Photo by Nick Hristov