Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve- A Fun Location Review
See the bats, if you can get there
Oh, the suspense! The Daring!
Now and then, there’s some fun and adventure in store for your day. Now and then, an adventurous day turns into something like you might see in an episode of your favorite action TV show. After all, a visit to the Eckert James River Bate Cave, which is located near the small town of Mason, Texas (the home of some of the world’s most beautiful and valuable Topaz) places one on the very edge of calamity almost as much as Indiana Jones might face.
To see bat emergences while in the Hill Country of Texas is not a big surprise in itself, since such draws and splendors of Nature are somewhat common in the area. The state of Texas is known to harbor more species of bats than any other, and they just might harbor more of an appreciation for these bats than anyone from anywhere else. After all, the bats are a godsend of Nature, with their consumption of massive amounts of insects that otherwise are significant pests (well, they’re still pests, but their significance is significantly reduced by the benefits the bats offer) so the farming communities in particular enjoy the bats, but there’s just something magical and breathtaking in seeing millions of the things emerge in a matter of minutes, especially if the emergence is from somewhere fascinating in and of itself.
Because it’s become something of a family tradition for us to visit these bats (us being my wife, my ex-wife, and our two daughters) we decided to visit this particular cave, not recognizing it would be such an adventure. Oh, and for the unique family situation- My wife and I along with our ten year old try to visit my ex-wife and eighteen year old when we can, since I so desire to see my wonderful daughter and it helps the two ladies have become friends. Enough on that…because we all enjoy these sorts of sights for the end of the day, we’ve seen these emergences before.
We’ve been on road trips to Rock Springs, Texas, in order to see millions of bats emerge from the Devil’s Sinkhole. At the time of this writing, the ex and older child live in Fredericksburg (but such daughter is chasing her future elsewhere soon) so we decided to visit the Old Tunnel Bat Cave in Fredericksburg, Texas, and this is a nice place to see. But to see it, nobody is hanging on the edge of chaos. The worst there is exposure to some of the best burgers in the entire state. If that’s chaos, it is good chaos. Anyhoo, back to Mason…
After Rock Springs and Fredericksburg visits, it was time to up the ante. It was time to make it real. We decided we were going to see something that routinely turns away so many others who faced the danger and shrunk back. We visited Mason (which, if it wasn’t for some modern points such as electricity and 21st Century vehicles would like a town in an episode of Bonanza or Gunsmoke) and enjoyed a massive lunch complete with some Texas-sized flavors along with learning that some of the world’s best Topaz comes from right there, steeling us for the adventure to come.
The emergence is at dusk, so there was no good reason to go too early, but we’re glad we embarked on this journey before dark, because we might have joined the legions of onlookers who too often wimp out. Because the roads in this particular area of the world are not known to be wide and inviting (no, they’re rather narrow, nondescript and a pain to find) it took us some time to find the way. But once we found the right road that was the first to take, we pursued it with caution. This, my friends, is out here largely by itself.
You see, one must traverse a small series of roads to obtain passage into the Eckert James region, and one’s personal fortitude and steely nature will be placed before a challenge. After all, there might be people out there right now, missing and lost, who missed a turn somewhere along the way…
But missing turns is not the big challenge providing one can follow some rather simple directions (eww, major challenge for some); the major challenge resides in ensuring one does NOT choose to rise in some urban vehicle like a Prius, because that car is not going to make it. A decent pickup or Jeep, or maybe a genuine Hummer would be a better idea. That’s because the paved road gives way to rutted, jagged pathways of rock and dust, with hills and valleys placing the before-mentioned lunch at risk. It would be a good idea to keep an open eye for the cattle and roadrunners while negotiating these pathways to near certain doom, but keep that open eye focused for the proper turns, as getting lost could be too easy.
But one should consider the scenery is nearly as breathtaking as the destination itself, which only adds to the adventure. But adding to the adventure is the roadway continues to deteriorate as one continues, as the roadway loses pavement, and then soon thereafter, any smoothness at all. Follow the signs but be aware that there have been low-IQ goofs who have fooled with the signs, according to local legend. Stick with the published brochures obtained before getting out there and you’ll be okay. But watch for the signs mentioned and take the proper turns.
The roads do get rough, but the worst issue is there’s some water to traverse. Now, this isn’t some little trickling pass to get through in your car; the width of the body of water one must pull the vehicle into has to approach a good hundred yards across. But this is somewhat of an optical illusion, because when you first see it, you’re bound to assume this would swallow up you and all those with you, sending you to some Land of the Lost. Marshall, Will and Holly, on a routine expedition…
…well, maybe not that bad, but this spot is known to turn those with doubtful resolve back with significant disappointment. But the water (under normal conditions) isn’t but perhaps but a fraction of a foot deep. One’s shoes would be soaked, but the vehicle, should it be not a Prius, Smart Car (not smart here, kids) or something similar, should be fine. We did this in a Ford Escape, my friends, so maybe Indiana Jones wouldn’t be all that impressed. But when I pulled that little car to the water’s edge and saw how far into the water and across this span I would have to go, I was somewhat daunted.
But not daunted enough, so we took a deep breath and made the plunge. The span across the water is quite flat, but focus and remain going straight, as stories tell of the water getting deep, and to the right of the forward motion there is a drop-off that will eat such a little car. Just be careful and you should be okay.
We assume, anyway.
Then, once you get across that, the terrain picks up in the challenge factor a notch or two, so watch for ruts and rocks that could cause some undercarriage damage. You do not want to nick the fuel tank and end up stuck out here. Wow, the stories those AAA guys would tell…
After what would prompt you to mumble, “Are you sure this is the right way?”, one should soon come to the gate for the reserve. This particular little stretch is treacherous to negotiate and is a threat to a smaller vehicle unlike anything behind you now, so we really recommend a vehicle built for it. But once you get through that, there is a place where you’re parking the car and continuing forward on foot, as there are too few vehicles capable of continuing.
Okay, it isn’t that bad, but you’ll have to walk for a few minutes along a pathway only marked through how beaten it has become by those daring enough to get this far. Follow the path and after just a few minutes you’ll see the cave. Now, there are benches constructed here, but the danger is not behind you completely. If you take a look from the first row, you are literally on the edge of significant danger and this is why.
This is a cave known to harbor millions of Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. Places where these things live are filled with the ammonia produced by the rotting and consumption of the bat droppings (guano) at the bottom of the cave and near the entrance, and this would overpower and suffocate you should you get too close. Further, a fall would be traumatic because this is a steep slope into large, jagged rocks. So, the stern warning to those daring enough to sit up front is as follows…
“Those sitting at the front row must remain seated at all times, because if you fall, you’re likely to not come out of this alive. First, you’re going to roll down a steep slope complete with jagged rocks, and that’s going to leave a mark. Actually, it’s likely to render you unconscious and significantly injured all by itself, but that isn’t where this ends. The scenario continues with your unconscious body continuing to roll well into the cave, where the ammonia will overpower your body and place you where nobody is capable of rescuing you unless they’re wearing an environmental protective suit, and all those people are a long ways away, likely in San Antonio. But that isn’t the worst of it.
“At the bottom of any cave where bats frequent is several feet of guano, which is filled with treacherous beetles that eat the guano and anything else that ends up there. These are flesh-eating beetles, people, and they are more than capable of stripping the meat from the bones of any bat that falls into the mess in a matter of a few minutes. They could not pick your bones clean in mere minutes, but by the time a team of rescuers made it out here to assist you, they would have had your bones picked clean and they’d be quite hungry again before the calls were completed and anyone would be under way. So, a fall into there spells curtains for you.”
Dear Readers, if you’re sitting in the first row and merely straighten out your leg, placing your toe forward, your toe is over the edge. In all seriousness, this is a place where be careful means something.
But because those being careful are likely to survive from here, this is where things start coming together. Just down below, one can see the open mouth of the cave, so it’s just a matter of waiting for the right moment while the nice person there narrates what’s going on and provides some educational education after the stern warning to avoid certain death.
During our trip, there was this nice lady named Vicki. She is quite knowledgeable about what’s there and is very entertaining to hear. She’ll provide some history, some scientific knowledge, and a small pouch where you’ll place five dollars per person. Hey, sitting near the edge of certain death for five bucks is practically a steal, people!
Vicki goes on with some interesting facts about the bats and how they’re a genuine blessing to our environment. And then within minutes, the first of the bats start to emerge. This emergence is just a few scouts at first but within a minute or two the space before the cave is thick with these things. And with this cave at this particular time, these are mostly pregnant females. This emergence lasts for quite some time and in fact, they were still coming out when the sky went dark and it was time for everyone to leave. But to see those bats and so many of them is such an unforgettable sight. It makes all the challenges worthwhile.
Making the trip back in the dark, especially across the water (in this little Ford), was a lot of fun. We even provided some illumination for a couple who chose to enjoy the night’s festivities by coming out to visit on a motorcycle. They said they didn’t know about the water and pushed the bike through both ways. Three cheers for the adventure!
So for those of you who are both adventurers and nature lovers, who feel their pulse throb whenever they watch another Indiana Jones movie regardless of how many times they’ve seen it, and who don’t mind the smell of ammonia and fetid guano, then please make your way to the Eckert James River Bat Cave. Because the wise know that quality life is not comprised of the moments you’re breathing, but the moments that take your breath away.
- Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve | The Nature Conservancy
The Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve is one of the largest bat nurseries in the country. About 4 million female mexican free-tailed bats inhabit the site from May through September. But getting there can be the most fun of all.