July 15, 2010
Monte Vista, Colorado - Easy trail access to one of
Colorado's most fascinating natural wonders - the bat roost at the
Orient Mine in the San Luis Valley - has been provided through a
team effort of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Orient Land
Trust and the Saguache Field Office of the BLM-U.S. Forest
During July and August, about 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats
make their summer roost in the former iron-ore mine. Just before
dusk each evening, the bats - mostly males - make an out-flight to
begin their daily search for food. The column of bats during the
out-flight continues for nearly an hour.
A viewing area near the mine allows wildlife watchers to witness
this daily event at Colorado's largest bat colony. Entering the
mine is prohibited.
"This is a safe place for people to observe bats," said Kirk Navo,
a DOW conservation biologist and bat expert. "Entering old mines
is dangerous for people. But also, disturbing bats in their
sensitive habitat environments can cause problems for these
In other areas of the U.S., "white-nose syndrome" is killing bat
colonies. The disease is caused by a fungus and appears as a white
dusting around the muzzle and elsewhere on the bats. It was first
found in bats in a cave in New York in 2006 and has been spreading
south and west. It has been found in bats as close to Colorado as
There is concern nationally that humans who explore caves and
mines used by bats can inadvertently spread the spores that cause
the disease. Navo said that's not a concern at the Orient site
because people are not allowed to enter the mine.
"The spores cannot be spread by viewing the out-flight. The
fencing keeps people at a safe distance from the mine opening and
there is no direct contact with bats," Navo said.
Navo recommends that people stay out of mines and caves to prevent
any inadvertent spreading of the fungus.
The Orient Land Trust and the DOW worked in cooperation with the
BLM-USFS field office to ensure that the public could park at the
Black Canyon Trailhead and hike from there along a marked trail to
the Orient Mine and bat roost site. The trail can be accessed from
Saguache County Road GG, which is located just north of the
intersection of U.S. Highway 285 and Colorado Highway 17. To get
to the trail go east on Saguache County Road GG and follow the
signs to the BLM Black Canyon trailhead. The trail to the mine is
just over a mile from the parking area and is a moderate walk.
Hikers and backpackers can access the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
from the trailhead.
The mine can also be accessed farther up the road through the
Valley View Hot Springs. Hikers are cautioned that the hot springs
facility is clothing optional.
Through August, guides will be at the Black Canyon trailhead a few
hours before dusk or about 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.
They'll then lead wildlife watchers on an interpretive hike to the
viewing area. The trail is also open the other days of the week.
"This is a very unique and interesting glimpse of nature," said
Amy Trainer, land conservation specialist and former executive
director of the Orient Land Trust. "The best viewing opportunities
are during July and August. By mid-September the bats have left
for the south and warmer weather."
The land trust received a financial grant from the DOW and Great
Outdoors Colorado to ensure improved public access to the mine
The Orient Land Trust owns 1,800 acres in the area, including a
working cattle ranch, the Valley View Hot Springs and the Orient
Mine site. The Colorado Division of Wildlife owns 10 acres
adjacent to the mine.