52nd Annual Bat Flight Breakfast at Carlsbad Caverns National Park on July 18, 2009

Bat flight.

NPS Photo by Nick Hristov.

A fascinating natural event will be combined with a tasty breakfast in a premier outdoor setting on Saturday, July 18. It's time for the 52nd annual Bat Flight Breakfast at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

“We hope visitors will attend the prior evening’s bat flight program, wake up to a good breakfast, and then watch the bats fly back into the cave!” said breakfast coordinator Avelina Childress. “Some summer evenings there are over a thousand people watching the bats fly out of the cave, but the mornings are peaceful since very few people get up early enough to experience the in-flight.”

The Bat Flight Breakfast began in 1957 as a way to encourage visitors to see the bats’ morning return flight. Before entering the cave in the morning, the bats circle several hundred feet overhead and then dive in clusters into the cave entrance. Unlike the shorter nighttime exodus out of the cave when the bats spiral up and leave the cave, the sunrise return to the cave normally spans several hours.

Reservations are not accepted, but a park spokesperson says, “we've never turned anyone away from the breakfast. Everyone is invited!”

Breakfast will be served from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Cost of the meal is $7.50, and includes free entrance to the self-guided portions of Carlsbad Cavern. This year’s menu includes breakfast burritos with eggs, sausage, potatoes, cheese, and/or salsa; orange juice, coffee and milk; and whole fruit. Sounds like a great deal to me!

In addition to the meal, the first 110 visitors in line for breakfast will be able to participate in a guided lantern tour in Carlsbad Cavern via the natural entrance—you’ll see the cave much like early explorers did! Entrance to the self-guided portions of the Cavern will be free to all Bat Flight Breakfast participants.

The annual breakfast is sponsored by the Caverns Activity Association, the park’s concessioner Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company, and the Carlsbad Community Kitchen in cooperation with the National Park Service.

The breakfast offers the chance to enjoy the flip side of an event that occurs each evening during the summer, when

nearly 400,000 Brazilian (aka Mexican) free-tail bats exit Carlsbad Cavern in search of a smorgasbord of insects for dinner.

Prior to the evening bat flight, a program is given at the cavern entrance by a park ranger. The starting time of the talk varies with sunset—it is best to call the park at 505-785-3012 or check at the visitor center for the exact time. Programs may be canceled in the event of inclement weather.

Bat flight programs are scheduled from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. There is no charge for the bat flight program. In late October or early November, the bats migrate to Mexico for the winter; they return in April or May, depending on the weather.

The best bat flights normally occur in July and August. At this time baby bats, born in early summer, join the flight along with migrating bats from colonies further north.

You'll find information about cave tours and driving directions on the park website. There is no camping or lodging in the park, so line up a campsite or motel room nearby. White's City is seven miles from the visitor center, and Carlsbad, New Mexico is 23 miles away. Allow extra time for your travel to the park, as there can be delays on Hwy 62/180, because of road work.

Trivia fans may question the math for the "52nd annual" if this event began in 1957. There's some unconfirmed information that the event was skipped one year in the distant past, and if so, 2009 would in fact be the 52nd time the area has hosted a great event. Plus or minus one, it's a wonderful opportunity for a unique experience.

Comments

I went to three of these when I was the superintendent of Carlsbad and Guadalupe (the two parks were managed by a single superintendent in those days. Now Guadalupe has its own superintendent.) While seeing the bats leave the cave is a regularly interpreted event during the summer, watching them dive bomb back into the cave after their nightly insect hunt is an organized event only once a year. It's a great wildlife spectacle. I hope all NPT readers will do it once.

Rick Smith