It was the perfect night to go hiking. The venue, the weather, the company, and a whole lot more.
My friend, Rochelle, also a teacher, took a class this past week called Teaching Environmental Science Naturally, put on by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (formerly Division of Wildlife). I ran into her Friday at the pool and she was telling me all about the activities and what she had learned. She mentioned that Colorado Parks and Wildlife was going to start a bat study. They wanted to find out how many species of bats lived on the Monument.
“Oh, you’ll probably want to know this. It’s a great time to go night hiking in No Thoroughfare Canyon. Our instructors said the frogs and toads are going crazy up there right about the time it gets dark.”
“Um, yeah! We should go tonight!” I said. “Or tomorrow. Whatever works for you.”
Rochelle couldn’t go either night because she was going out-of-town. So I asked Jim and he agreed.
We grabbed some Del Taco on the way and threw it in his backpack and started hiking about 7:30. The prickly pear blooms were incredible, sporting hues I’d never seen before, especially the orange sherbet shade.
I gazed at the canyon walls, the last of the sunshine illuminating and highlighting their tremendous height, amazed as always at the splendor of the red canyons in the Monument. And the greens. So much variety, so rich in color and life following a fairly wet spring.
After about a mile we came upon the first pool created by run off. And at the first pool were two guys, wearing waders, and setting up nets.
“Hey, what are you doing?” asked Jim, in a friendly voice.
“Well, we’re going to try to catch some bats,” said the shorter of the two men, who we later found out was Dan.
“Oh, is this for the bat study?” I asked, hardly believing how lucky we were that the study Rochelle mentioned was starting tonight and happening right here, right where we happened to be.
Dan looked at me at funny. “Yes. Yes, it is.” He went on to explain how the nets worked, wanting us to know that there would be no harm to the animals.
“And you’re trying to find out how many bat species are up here on the Monument, is that right?” I asked.
“Uh, okay,” he said, cocking his head and squinting his eyes at me, “how do you know all this?”
I laughed and told him that I was a teacher and that I had a teacher friend who, not more than three hours ago, had told me about her class and what she had learned.
“Oh yeah, I spoke to that class,” he said. I noticed he was wearing a Colorado Parks and Wildlife t-shirt.
Dan and Jake were more than willing to tell us about their work in general and this study in particular. They explained what all they’d be looking for if they caught any bats and what type of information they’d record. I asked if it would be okay if we watched, if it was okay that we were in the area tonight.
“It shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t mind. You’ll just need to keep your headlamps off most of the time so the bats will come in. They usually come here to drink right around dusk.”
Jim and I went up the trail, above the first pool, and found a nice spot to have our Del Taco dinner.
The moon, a 5/8 moon, made its appearance as the sun exited the scene. Right as it was getting dark, we made our way back to the first pool, the loud machine gun sounding call of the Canyon Tree Frog (it doesn’t live in trees but it has feet like most tree frogs do) and the screaming of the Woodhouse Toads ricocheting off the rocks.
As the light extinguished, I kept my eyes on the trail. I was surprised when a frog (or perhaps a toad, they do look similar) crossed the path right in front of me and then scooted into the safety of the grass.
By the time we got back to the first pool, the guys had already captured several bats. They showed them to us beneath their headlamps. They were tiny, their furry bodies no bigger than a juvenile mouse. But then Dan gently stretched out the wings of one and we could see that the wingspan was nearly ten inches.
We observed their sharp teeth set into their tiny heads and got to touch their paper-thin wings. I tried to get my iPhone camera to cooperate, but it had trouble focusing and deciding whether to use its flash or rely on the ever-changing light of the four headlamps leaning in and lighting up the subject.
Dan and Jake shared more of their knowledge. These bats were all myotis bats, the same bats that dart about in town shortly after the sun goes down. They know of eight species of myotis bats on the Monument and about eight other species as well. Then, we thanked them and let them get back to work.
The moon was almost bright enough to light the way for us, but we didn’t want to stumble so we turned our headlights on and took the short hike back.
“What a magical evening this has been,” Jim said, walking slowly, not really wanting it to end. “Thanks for getting me out.”
“Yeah, magical is right. The hike alone would have been wonderful. Add in evening light and then an early rising moon. Perfect weather. No bugs. Our yummy Del Taco picnic. Background music of frogs and toads. And then the cherry on top–running into the bat study and getting to see that work firsthand. Pretty much a perfect night for a hike.”