If you are ever in Hill Country, perhaps for a visit to Fredericksburg, then you must see the Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve in Mason, TX. This is an authentic up close viewing experience of bats in their natural habitat as they begin their evening emergence from their bat cave. Not just a few hundred or thousands, but millions. They form into a tornado of bats in order to propel themselves from the cave and into the night sky. As you sit on rudimentary viewing benches on the edge of a small cliff at the opening of the cave, bats will fly in front of your eyes just inches from your face. The bats are flying at such a high speed with so many of them together in this tornado pattern that you will feel the wind from them on your skin and face. It is unlike any other experience I have ever had. It is incredible seeing them in their natural habitat. This Preserve is one of the largest bat nurseries in the entire country. The pregnant bats arrive each year from Mexico to this cave in Mason, TX mid May. It is located in the middle of nowhere in Mason. Well worth the drive, which is also an adventure.
Here is some information about the bat Preserve from the Nature Conservancy which can also be found on their website- https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/texas/placesweprotect/eckert-james-river-bat-cave-preserve.xml
It is not an expensive adventure either. The nature conservancy only charges $5 per person! Be sure to call ahead for the gate opening time. It varies each night based on when the bats have emerged previous nights as of recent. They time it just right, so you arrive about an hour before the bats emerge. That gives you time to hike to the spot, get settled, and learn a bit from the bat cave steward. Her name is Vicki Ritter and she has been steward for this cave for 13 years. She has remarkable knowledge and experience with these bats and is truly an expert. The information she presented made me appreciate bats for their role in keeping pests off of crops and eating tons (literally with the millions or billions of bats on the earth) of mosquitos each and every night. That alone makes me smile and love bats. Not only is this bat experience cool, but the information presented by Vicki Ritter will blow your mind! No kidding! Did you know that the horrible smell that comes from a bat cave is not caused by the bat poop (guano) alone? The primary cause of that smell is from the flesh eating beetles that live on top of the guano. Disgusting, but true! When a bat falls to the floor of the cave, within minutes it is devoured by flesh eating beetles. These beetles release a horrible smelling ammonia, which would literally choke you if you were on the floor of the cave. That ammonia is what you are really smelling as you get near a bat cave. Vicki Ritter will provide you with a great deal of bat information, so you can walk away with an appreciation for these mammals. Yes, they are mammals. You can google it if you don’t want to take my word for it. Ok, I admit I didn’t know this fact until recently when my kindergartener told me. I too had to google it just to be sure she wasn’t pulling my leg.
Here is more information for your visit. Be sure to check their website listed above for the most current details.
Before you put the Preserve into your IPhone and start driving, print the directions below or write them down. Your phone will not work. The reception out there is terrible for cell phones. The drive is mostly dirt roads that are very bumpy. Oh, and you have to ford the James River to get to the Preserve. If it has rained recently before your trip I recommend only going in a pickup or SUV. A regular car will not be able to ford the river if water levels are too high. This is not simply crossing a little stream. No joke. You ford a river. If you ever played The Oregon Trail on the computer while growing up you know this term. I took video of this part of our drive:
The bats take a total of about an hour and a half for all of them to emerge from the cave. We didn’t stay the entire time, since we had to drive back in the dark and cross the river again, in the dark (it had to be said twice).
I did get some video of the bats emerging before it got too dark. Here is one of my video clips:
Here is another video clip. This time with some slow motion. https://youtu.be/qZ2auzMONlQ
If you ever get a chance to get to this area of Texas don’t miss out on this opportunity! It is such an interesting and authentic experience that even the BBC and National Geographic have been there to do stories on this bat nursery. Millions of pregnant bats in one place! I would love to return later in the season after the babies are born and they begin to fly as well.