Bats, Bats, and more Bats!
The Orient Mine is home to nearly 250,000 Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats. From early in the summer to sometime in September, the bats make the Mine their summer residence.
Each evening they leave the security of the Orient Mine and fly out into the San Luis Valley to eat insects before returning the following morning.
As weather in the San Luis Valley can rapidly change it is best to be prepared. It is also at a higher elevation than the Valley floor so it will be cooler.
Dressing in layers would be best so you are prepared for all types of weather. You should also have good footwear, water, and snacks!
It is also a great idea to take a flashlight because it is dark when you come back down the path to your car and don't forget your camera!
The night that we went it was raining so we planned ahead and were prepared with raincoats. This made it much more enjoyable to watch as the bats left the mine regardless of the rain.
Getting to the Mine
The Orient Mine is located on the Sangre de Cristo mountain range above Valley View Hot Springs.
There are two ways to get to there.
Both directions begin by taking County Road GG east towards the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. County Road GG is found at the intersection of Highway 17 and Highway 285.
If you are traveling north on Highway 17, it is approximately 12 miles north of the town of Moffat or 50 miles north of Alamosa. If you are traveling north on Highway 285, it is approximately 14 miles from the town of Saguache. If you are just entering the San Luis Valley over Poncha Pass from Poncha Springs, it is approximately 29 miles to the intersection.
While both ways of getting to the mine require walking, the second option includes a little farther walk.
Once you reach the trail head, the hike to the mine it is about a half mile walk and an elevation gain of 700 feet. Depending on your speed it is best to give yourself an hour to get to the mine.
Take County Road GG (which is a dirt road) east towards the Valley View Hot Springs. This hot springs is a “clothing optional” members hot springs.
The owners of Valley View Hot Springs are gracious enough to allow tourists to enter through the hot springs and travel to the mouth of the Orient Mine to watch the Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats. There is no fee to drive through the Valley View Hot Springs to see the bats.
During certain times of the summer Valley View Hot Springs has private events and they do not allow the public through to view the bats. Please plan ahead and call Valley View Hot Springs (719-256-4315) to make sure you can access the mine from this direction.
Please be aware that the people at the hot springs may not be clothed. We have had several friends who have commented that it was uncomfortable for their family to go through Valley View Hot Springs.
It is nice that there is another way to get to the Orient Mine.
Once again starting from County Road GG, take the road east until coming to an intersection in the road. You are looking for the Country Road 61 intersection.
Turn left (or north) on this road and follow the well posted signs to the Black Canyon trailhead.
We traveled the road to the Black Canyon trailhead in a jeep.
The road was rough and I wouldn’t suggest taking a low wheel based car, however, some of the other people watching the bats fly out of the Orient Mine had traveled there in a Subaru station wagon.
Continue a short distance past the Black Canyon trailhead to where the road is closed to motorized travel because of a locked gate.
From here it is approximately a mile walk up a very gradual grade to where you will meet any of the visitors that chose to travel through the Valley View Hot Springs. The last leg of the journey is about half a mile and the elevation does increase.
The entire area around the hot springs and mine is "clothing-optional" so taking the second route doesn't guarantee you won't see nudity but greatly lowers your chance.
Orient Mine History
There are informational signs along the trail telling the history of the Orient Mine. At one time this was a formidable town that consisted of a bunk house, a boarding house, post office, company store, stables, blacksmith shop, school and a barber shop.
Iron ore was originally discovered in the 1870s and the town of Orient was established in the 1880s. The Orient Mine, originally known as Haymann, was one of the largest working iron mines in Colorado and employed 400 men at its peak.
There can still be seen the railroad bank where the iron ore was transported to the town of Villa Grove. The town was abandoned in 1905.
The Orient Mine Trust works with the Colorado State Historical Society to develop and publish brochures about the history of the area. These brochures are available at the Welcome Center.
The bats leave from what is known as “Glory Hole.” This enormous hole was once an underground mine complex but in 1893, the roof of the mine shaft collapsed leaving a maze of tunnels and caverns where the bats reside during the day light hours.
Watching the Bats
The evening, in which Neal and I (Debbie) went to the Orient Mine, it happened to be a rainy one. This didn’t affect the flight of the bats but I was unable to take pictures with my camera.
The Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats leave the “Glory Hole” of the Orient Mine around dusk by the thousands. The Division of Wildlife has made a nice viewing area at the mouth of the “Glory Hole.” We watched the exodus for nearly an hour, until it was too dark to see them anymore.
The bats are about four inches long with a wingspan of twelve inches and can fly at speeds of 60 miles per hour, at altitudes of over 10,000 feet, and travel as far as 50 miles in one direction each night in search of insects. These bats are a tremendous benefit to the San Luis Valley eating many tons of moths, beetles, mosquitoes, and other insects.
We were fortunate enough meet Greg Cress, who volunteers for the Division of Wildlife. He is available to the public in a nonofficial capacity.
He was a wealth of information as he walked with us after we left the mine. Among the vast amount of information he shared was that these Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats migrate to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico when the first sign of cold weather comes to the San Luis Valley. The bats stay there for a period of time where they gather with other Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats before migrating on to Mexico.
Because I was unable to take any pictures, Mr. Cress emailed me the pictures you are seeing on this webpage.
This is a very unique experience and we would highly recommend taking an evening and making the drive to the Orient Mine.
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