Orient Mine hosts thousands of bats

Protecting and preserving without impacting the environment is the mission of the Orient Land Trust in the San Luis Valley. The Land Trust owns and manages the Orient Mine, which is home to thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats each June through September. The all-bachelor population is estimated to be between 100,000 and 250,000 bats, making it the largest colony of its kind in the country.

Nightly, the entire colony flies from the mouth of the mine, named Glory Hole, in search of food. The Land Trust offers free guided tours to the mouth of the cave for people to view the sight.

Robin “Rosie” Rosenberg, visitor service manager, stressed how important it is to protect and preserve this colony. Which is why during the tour, visitors are asked to remain quiet for the last leg of the two-mile hike. Disturbing the bats’ habitat goes against the mission and the purpose of the Land Trust.

Rosenberg said people often ask why they don’t spray for mosquitos. “Because the bats eat mosquitos,” she said. “(The bats have) played a vital role in the chemical- and pesticide-free agriculture of the valley.”

The colony was first discovered in 1967. The mine closed in 1942, but nothing was documented between then and 1967.

“It’s a pretty spectacular experience,” said Rosenberg, who has seen the outfly six times. “I’ve lived in the valley for 35 years, and the bats have always been a part of the environment as long as I’ve known it.”

While signage on County Road GG suggests there are two ways to access the mine, the Black Canyon Road is fairly impassable – especially this year with all the rain. So, Rosenberg encourages viewers to drive up to the Welcome Center, check in and then catch the tour from there. Tours leave the center daily, two hours before sunset. With the rain, outflights have been a “bit earlier – but also more spectacular.”

Biology students from Fort Lewis College and Western State Colorado University come to monitor the health of the colony every year. They catch as many bats as possible to check for White Nose Syndrome. They have estimated the colony to be 90- to 93-percent male. Rosenberg explained that when the females in Texas and New Mexico have their offspring, the males leave to make sure there is enough food for them. Some of the bachelor bats come from the Bracken Cave in San Antonio, Texas. Rosenberg said they are all “one giant colony.”

When the bachelors leave in September, it is unknown where they go, but Rosenberg said they likely spend their winters in the Bracken Cave or in Mexico. The hike to the Orient Mine is four miles round-trip, with an 800-foot elevation gain. Along the wayare several historical ruins from Haumann, or Old Town, where the miners lived. Bring water, a flashlight and warm clothing. Tours are led by bat experts from around the country, volunteering their time.

“Our goal is to create awareness of environmental issues, resource sustainability, and land andhabitat conservation,” Rosenberg said. “The Land Trust offers the opportunity to experience this unique environment, to expand your knowledge of the natural world through our educational programs and to instill a sense of stewardship and personal responsibility.”

Reservations are not required, but if you’re unsure of when the tour will depart, call the welcome center at 719-256-4315.