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Going batty at Texas cave

PostPosted: Jul 16, 2006 12:00 pm
by Wayne Harrison
Going batty
Moving from the dark side to research subject to airy tourist attraction
By Keith O'Brien, Boston Globe Correspondent
July 16, 2006

CONCAN, Texas -- Just down the road from Utopia, tucked away in the juniper hills 80 miles west of San Antonio, there is a gaping hole in the dusty earth filled with millions of sleeping bats.

This is the very definition of the middle of nowhere. Cell phone signals come and go. Gas stations are as probable as rain. Uvalde, the nearest big town, has just 16,000 people, and is a good 30-minute drive from here. This is what Texas used to be: a vast, hard landscape of absolutely nothing.

And yet, just before nightfall, people begin to pull up in cars and wait for Bain Walker to take them to the gaping hole known as Frio Cave. They are from Ohio and Michigan, Canada, and California. And they have come to see the bats.

``Here we are," Walker says after leading the people down a dirt road to the foot of the hill near Frio Cave. The sun is setting. Soon, as they do every night, millions of Brazilian free-tailed bats will emerge, flying only a few feet over the heads of the people who have gathered to watch them. And the people, for the most part, will not be afraid.

The bats will be close enough to be heard, to be felt fluttering on the air. And when it's over about an hour later, people won't be able to stop talking about what they saw. Bat emergences are nothing new. Those who have visited Austin may have witnessed a similar event at the Congress Avenue bridge . And the caves of central Texas have always made good homes for migrating bats.

But only in recent years have these caves started to attract tourists interested in seeing these storied animals. Once considered nuisances, these bats are now the subject of Boston University researchers. There is a growing appreciation of their ecological value and more and more people are going to places like Frio Cave.

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