Devil's Sinkhole in Rocksprings, Texas.
This one, plus a couple million more
Da Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na....
There are times when people fear looking down the gullet of the entrance to Hell. Perhaps their days of dancing with the Devil have placed them on an edge so precarious that if they don’t take the lead now, they’ll fall for sure. How funny that is, since so many who dance with the Devil are sure they are leading; how surprised they are when they discover they never were. Be that as it may, there I was, with my wife, my ex-wife (yes, if you’re standing on the edge to the entrance of Hell, you might as well take everyone) and our two daughters, one from each. It was dusk. Our shadows were fading fast. The sounds of our two tour guides were all we heard, along with whispers from the young honeymooners there with us, who, by the way, just seemed along for the ride, since none of us knew them and they preferred to be in their own company. There we were, all eleven us. Standing before the entrance to Hell so we could watch millions of bats disgorge from the mysterious depths below and disappear into the night sky. Assuredly, we had nothing better to do.
To flash back, the five of us loaded up in the RV I rented; it was fairly late in the afternoon. Yes, I rented an RV with the price of gas being what it is. I never claimed I was a genius, just mad. Besides (as an aside), how about those people who pay enormous sums of money for those big, beautiful fuel-guzzling RV’s, just to skimp on the cost of a small car carrier and tow their car from sea to shining sea, killing it slowly while the keys to it are in their pocket. Sometime, I’ll have to pass on to the readers the story of a couple who towed their car behind their RV, but accidentally left it in park, and then quickly disengaged it from the RV to watch it burn by the side of the road. Carbecue, anyone?
We loaded up in the RV, while my older daughter had her homework with her so she could finish up the details while we drove to Rocksprings, Texas, which is a tiny, remote town that the latter half of the 20th century forgot. The biggest employer of this town of a little over a hundred people is the school, which tells me the town’s biggest motivator is teaching the progeny enough to get out of there. I mean, this town is a tiny oasis out in the middle of nowhere, and a mere thirty minute drive from the entrance to Hell. The drive was close to two hours of nothing, spotty cell phone signals, and anticipation to see a place once described as the Entrance to Hell. Once the two hours passed, which I enjoyed sharing with the radio while my wife and ex-wife giggled about me, we saw the sign for Rocksprings and knew we were close.
Once we actually pulled into town, we were utterly alone. It was still daylight, early evening, in fact. The tiny town had nothing open and nobody around; it was like a scene from some post-apocalyptic movie. I had the directions I obtained from MapQuest next to me, so I took the rights and lefts I was to take until I passed the corner office of the shop responsible for taking us on this tour. Because I was unsure where to park (the town needs no meters) I went past the small corner office where the sign said, ‘Location for tour to Devil’s Sinkhole, State Natural Area’, looking for parking.
I went past the office to find either a place to park or a place to turn around, mainly so I could park somewhere near that office. It didn’t seem the RV would be any major hindrance to traffic. I should point out that when I passed the office and saw no comfortable place to park (which prompted me to drive around the block, the only one in town), we saw the Batmobile. When we saw the Batmobile, we knew we were in the right place.
I went around the block and pulled up behind a little car from out of state I didn’t see before. I considered chatting with the out-of-towners to see if they knew the score on what to do; there were as yet no other humans around. But they quickly demonstrated they were as new to the scene as we were, with their inquisitive expressions and the occasional shrug of the shoulders. The time was about 5:30pm, and we were told to be there at 6:00pm, so things seemed good to go so far.
The hour was what it was, so we ate some sandwiches and Sun Chips before tempting Satan with our presence to the entrance of his lair. Turkey and cheddar on white, along with Sun Chips and nacho cheese Doritos right from the bags, all washed down with Dr. Pepper and Sierra Mist is what you have for dinner before this act of karmic proportion. I sat in the driver’s seat, acting as the pilot of the way to the entrance to Hell, for myself, the wives, and my two daughters, then 4 and 13. I chewed on the sandwich, nursed a sore spot where I bit a chip wrong, and watched for the tour guides who would lead us to this unique place, in the Batmobile. I watched, and then we got out and we all watched, and then minutes later, there they were.
The shop’s proprietors, a nice, older couple who minded the store and managed things, welcomed us to town. I am confident they mentioned their names, but I do not recall what they said, nor do I recall what they said we should keep in mind before our journey. The fact that I have an ex-wife who is with me and my present wife, too, should indicate I am not known to catch on quickly. (Okay, in all seriousness, it was good to all be together, and I am blessed to have an ex we all can get along well with, what with some horror stories I’ve heard. Most people traveling to this place with an ex-spouse would be there only to give that one last heart-felt push). We meandered around the little shop while waiting for the tour to commence; looking over many of the cheesy but cute souvenirs we can take home from this excursion to the entrance to Hell, should we live to make it back. We all got T-shirts and little trinkets, because that’s what you do when you visit Disney World, so it is what you do when touring Satan’s front door.
Soon, our friendly tour guides showed up. One was a gentleman who would narrate our journey to the edge of Hell, complete with trivia about the town and some banter on the environment, and a nice lady who would drive the Batmobile. They mentioned their names, too, but since I have a listening impediment, I have no clue what those names were.
They looked at their watches, looked outside to see the approaching dusk, and said, “Okay, everyone. Are we ready to go?”
The posse and I were ready, and the two nuzzling honeymooners nodded, too. It was time to board the Batmobile. Like prisoners en-route to Quantico or something, we moved in single file and took our seats.
The Batmobile is an old school bus, now painted white, emblazoned along the sides with black silhouettes of bats, and ‘DEVIL’S SINKHOLE STATE NATURAL AREA, ROCKSPRINGS, TEXAS’. Christian Bale doesn’t have a Batmobile like this, baby! We boarded the Batmobile, the nine of us, and the driver fired that mother up.
“Atomic batteries for power. Turbines for speed,” I said as I peered over the seat before me, looking into the driver’s rearview mirror, and before he could reply, I had two wives telling me, “Uh, no. Not today.”
I suppose the fun would be limited to tempting fate only on this day.
The drive to the Devil’s Sinkhole was somewhere around thirty minutes or so, and during this drive, our two very nice tour guides provided some environmental information about the landscape around us, some historical information about town and what the region experienced before it, and some history of the sinkhole itself, which is actually a cave. The drive was out of town and into this barren wilderness, and I recall wondering how people survived being out here in days of old. I saw no obvious source of water, or anything to eat. But I suppose people managed, and while I wondered, the Batmobile slowed for a turn and went right, entering a place gated off, so we had to stop while the nice lady got out, unlocked the gate and pushed it open for the Batmobile, and closed it up after we drove in. The road is old and just dirt. Actually, it appeared precarious for a vehicle of this sort. Even if the front door to Hell was just ahead, I would need some coaxing to pull that rented RV down there. It wasn’t merely unpaved; it looked as it was dug out with explosives.
The Batmobile pulled ahead, the nice lady boarded, and we continued ahead. I looked behind us, where the road was, and knew we were on the cusp of the world we knew, and the bowels of Hell we wished we never would. I looked ahead and out the windshield, squinting to the last remnants of the daylight. This road was barely wide enough for the bus, so it was a good thing there was no oncoming traffic, but even that seemed ominous, since there were no signs anyone escaped from Hell. As the Batmobile rumbled ahead, the edge of the sun disappeared and the road curved to the right and out of sight. My mother was right all along; I am on a one-way road straight to Hell. I bet she never guessed I would bring her granddaughters along!
The Batmobile came to a stop and shut down. I saw no cave and I saw no bats. I didn’t even see a sign indicating Gotham City was but 14 miles away. It seemed the last leg of our trip to the entrance of Hell would be on foot.
We didn’t have far to go. We passed a couple of signs, one of them suggesting there was no evidence that anyone discovered this place before the 1880’s, which hinted that no one ever escaped before that time. The walk was but a few more minutes and we were there, at what we came to see.
A small platform was built so tourists could look straight down into the gaping maw of the gullet to Hell, and since there were still remnants of daylight during these moments before true dusk, our friendly tour guides told us some more about the landscape, the physical dimensions of the cave and the underwater lakes deep inside (once a source of water for horses and cowboys, which needed to be retrieved by buckets carried by the guy lowered on a rope. I wondered if he drew the short straw or needed to satisfy some curiosity). Since this cave was a significant source of revenue for town, along with the only real thing placing it on the map, it was interesting to hear how life was for these quiet people.
Before all daylight was lost, we could hear what sounded like whispering down below.
“Here they come,” the nice lady said. “You will soon meet more than three million Mexican Free Tail Bats.”
I looked down into the hole, and we could see the first of the bats stirring far below. Due to some physical limitations of bats (they cannot fly straight up), they circled in a steady spiral, gaining slight altitude with each turn. We only saw a few at first, but before much time passed, there were more and more down there coming into view. This sight, the bats before they breached the mouth of the cave, was intriguing to see. There they were, by the dozens, and then by the score, and soon by the hundreds, swirling in a tornado of flying rodents, soon to be literally all around us.
This entire trip was the idea of my wife, who heard about this place from someone I do not recall. She wanted to make this trip for quite some time by the time we actually did it, and when the opportunity presented itself, I really wanted to make this happen for her. Our trip to Texas was to be highlighted by this trip to the Devil’s Sinkhole, or I would be quite disappointed with myself. Watching the bats approach felt like an accomplishment, and an honor.
After but a few minutes, thousands upon thousands of these bats were swarming around us. Imagine seeing swarms of bees as they surround a hive in midday, with nothing but buzzing bees in every direction. This is an idea of what this was like. They were literally everywhere, filling your full field of vision. I had to take my hat off, since they kept bumping into me, and I feared my hat would be knocked into the cave below. Their sense of direction is uncanny, but the air was so thick of them that I suppose I was in the road.
My wife turned to me as what had to be millions of bats were truly within our grasp, swarming all around us and then into the night. She had tears in her eyes, and then she fell into my arms.
“Thank you for this,” she said.
It really was that magical. It was that singular a moment to see this wonder of nature, out here in the middle of nowhere. I appreciated the fact that she appreciated this, and I appreciated her coming up with this amazing idea. Then, there was the smell.
“If you can smell that,” the nice lady tour guide said. “That is the body odor of the bats. The guano itself doesn’t have much of a smell, and we wouldn’t smell it out here. No, that pungent odor is simply body odor emanating from the bats.”
It was a rich aroma, to be sure. So there we were, surrounded by millions of swirling bats, occasionally taking one to the back, legs, or the head, with the unnerving feeling up the spine as you realized a bat just ran into you, and then another, and that we were surrounded by this unique fragrance of nature.
We held our cameras out in front of us and snapped away, not really knowing what we would capture; now wondering about the limitations of these cheap digital cameras and their limited flashes. Later, we scanned through the pictures and most were a wasted shot, but there were quite a few pictures we really liked. These few shots presented so many mysterious objects in the background, and you would never guess what they were without the obvious scores of bats in the foreground. These were valuable pictures to us, to be sure, since I’ve taken pictures in many fascinating places, but never saw anything like this bat cave before, or since.
The night was a memorable night, to say the least. In my life, I have experienced many moments worthy of remembering. I recall standing on the middle platform of the Eiffel Tower, wondering what it would be like to be all the way up there to the top platform, but it was so small and we couldn’t afford to wait. I’ll never forget the moment when I walked through Checkpoint Charlie and into East Berlin, a mere three months after the fall of the wall. I do not need the few pieces I have left to remind me, but I keep them all the same. I recall being in the passenger seat of a friend’s old Honda Civic when he lost control of it and we rolled the car into a ditch, with the next thing we recall is lying on the ceiling of the car, looking out into the day with water from the ditch trickling underneath us, soaking us, with our next response to be bursting into laughter so deep we hardly could catch our breath. I recall the moments seeing my two daughters born, both by Caesarian. I remember where I was when I heard John Lennon was shot. I remember watching the TV the morning of 9/11 when it all broke loose. I remember the moment when I first pulled a semi out onto the public roadway. They say life is not measured by the amount of breaths you take throughout life, but by the moments that take your breath away. Seeing those millions of bats swirl out of this hole in the ground, and then all around us before they flew off into the night; it would be categorized with those such moments. We stood at a point many people once described as an entrance to Hell, while we watched millions of creatures most people revile because of what they are swarm around us, and we did it as a family. I have had several fortunate moments, and that night was surely among them.
Just as soon as it started, it was over. The process of all those bats heading into the night to chow down on tons of bugs took something like thirty minutes to an hour; we really weren’t keeping track of time. Then, once we took our family portraits of us standing in the dark, we boarded the Batmobile and enjoyed the quiet, peaceful ride back to Rocksprings.
When we stepped back into the gift shop where the two nice people awaited our return, we all had a newfound appreciation for the souvenirs around us. We chatted for some time with our tour guides and the shop proprietors, and then we filed into the RV. The honeymooners had long since moved on, as they had so many memories to create still ahead of them.
The drive back to where we were staying (my daughter and her mother live in the quaint, little town of Fredericksburg, which is another memorable visit should you get the chance) was different than our journey away from it earlier in the day. It was dark, the entire trip back was void of any civilization until we reached I-20, and the two girls were nodding off. Eventually, we were back to the B&B, calling it a day.
For those of you who are nature lovers as we are, with a never-ending appreciation for the mysteries of nature all around us, the trip to Rocksprings and the Devil’s Sinkhole is a must-see event. Never would there be another time when the one-way road to the entrance of Hell would be such a memorable event for a family to experience.