We arrived back at the picnic area. The teachers had brought along some Match-Light charcoal as it is against the parks regulations to gather firewood. A little plan was formulated. Mrs. B. had two rocks that she was striking together over the fire and I slipped around and lit the fire with a Bic lighter. Mrs. J. yelled a cheer and the kids turned around as with the final clack of the rocks the fire leapt into the air. Soon the fire ebbed down and the kids held their weinies over the fire from the end of a wire clothes hanger. Although I had brought no beer, the S'mores for dessert took a lot of the sting out of the pain of cooking out without a cold beer.
After the meal, the class loaded back up into the Suburbans and made the twenty mile drive down the highway to the other end of the park. We finally made it to the point of the old railroad track. Once at that point, the ranger unlocked the gate and we made our journey down the 10 miles of track to reach Clarity Tunnel. The tracks crossed several wooden bridges and one long concrete one. I could not believe how narrow these bridges were. I had always thought that trains were wider than that but the side mirrors of the Suburbans had only a few inches of clearance on both sides. The kids had been warned of the bridges in advance so there were a few gasps but thankfully no screams.
Once we reached the tunnel, we were able to turn around and park about 100 yards away from the entrance to the tunnel in order not to scare the bats. The class took a short walk down the old railroad tracks and reached one of the bridges to gaze over the canyon beneath. As it was quickly approaching dusk, the ranger led the way back to the tunnel. When we got back, the first of the Mexican Freetail Bats were exiting the tunnel to make their nightly rounds. The ranger had explained that the bats fanned out over a fifty mile radius to forage for insects.
The bats as they were flying out in magnificent columns reminded me of schools of fish. All going in the same general path but taking various routes flying around each other in what appeared to be orchestrated confusion. Most of the bats were flying off to our right but soon the bats started flying directly over our heads, some flew so low that you could hear the whoosh of their passing and the soft beating of their wings. Watching two million bats flying overhead like columns of winged warriors is an experience that I will never forget. It seemed almost majestic in a way.
The trip back home was uneventful. The days excitement had worn down most of the kids so there was very little antics of the morning. I am glad that I was asked to go along. I cannot remember a fieldtrip half as enjoyable when I was a kid. I plan to go back this summer with the whole family to share this experience. There may be bigger canyons and there may be caves with greater numbers of bats but I doubt that any of those can equal this experience that I shared with my son and his class.
( The picture of the bats in flight were taken off of the web. The park does not allow flash photographs of the bats as it is disorienting to them and might in fact make them aggressive. Two million aggressive bats is something that I really did not want to experience.)