One of the most popular (and completely free) activities at Carlsbad Caverns National Park may surprise you – and it’s not happening underground! It’s the Bat Flight Program.
Carlsbad Caverns is a summer home for up to 17 different species of bats before they migrate to Mexico for the winter. The majority of them, and the ones we were about to see are Brazilian (or Mexican) free-tail bats and during the day they sleep in the bat cave undisturbed and off-limits from public viewing. These bats aren’t very big; they have a wingspan of about 11 inches and weigh roughly 13 grams, (equal in weight of three nickel coins).
Along a short, paved pathway downhill and away from the main visitors center is the large cave opening, and Bat Flight Amphitheater.
As the sun begins to set and late evening arrives a crowd gathers around and sits with great anticipation for the bats appearance. A park ranger turns on a microphone and begins to tell the audience that roughly 300,000 bats will be awake and flying out momentarily. The crowd is warned that all electronic devices have been banned and must be turned off (no cell phones, no cameras, no nothing) because they can interfere with the bats as they make their exit. The ranger then pointed out a law-enforcement officer ready to write tickets and fines for anyone caught disobeying this rule. If you want to take any pictures or video you will need to do so from the parking lot, a few hundred yards from the cave entrance.
I chose to stay at the amphitheater and wait for the first bats to make their appearance. Unsurprisingly a lady’s cell phone went off and she was promptly escorted out (they don’t mess around with this rule). The bats didn’t all come out at once and I decided I’d make my way out to the parking lot as I just had to get photos. I talked earlier in the afternoon to a separate park employee that told me the policy existed not because all electronics messed with the bats, but because too many people couldn’t follow the rule to keep their flashes from going off (which does mess with their exit).
The bats continued flying out in spurts for more than 30 minutes. The temperature outside was perfect and the sunset was incredible. Other than the annoyance of not being able to photograph this was an incredible experience!
As the bats continued to fly out in different directions something else stole my attention. Upon us was one of the most colorful and beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. The photo below hasn’t been enhanced with photoshop, the sunset was really just that amazing!
Carlsbad Caverns Bats Video
Above is a short video I caught as the bats were flying out above us. At this point they had already begun exiting for nearly 10 or so minutes and a steady stream of bats were heading out into the sky. You can in full size here: Carlsbad Caverns Bat Flight Video
If for any reason the video doesn’t work for you on this page, you can view it in HD on YouTube: Carlsbad Caverns Bat Flight
Tips for Your Visit
- No cameras, videos or cell phones are allowed at the amphitheater but you can use them from the parking lot.
- The Bat flight programs are scheduled from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October; depending on when the bats migrate.
- Start time and hours vary with sunset, it’s best to call ahead.
More info: www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/bat_flight_program.htm