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Old 09-21-2013, 12:55 PM   #1
txplants OP
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Batty for Texas' Twisted Sisters!

I’m always looking for a chance to make a trip. So when I received a query from Oli-San if I were free for the Labor Day weekend to head to the Texas Hill Country, I found myself getting ahead at work so I could wring out as much time away as possible. We began to cook up a plan that would include riding the three sisters and other T1 roads, maybe a hike, and a side excursion to observe a natural history phenomenon that might be an ADV Day Trippin’ first.

It’s so bloody hot we decide to “hotel it”, so I’m packed fairly light with plenty of snacks and water for the trip from Houston to Fredericksburg. Oli-San had to put in half a day, but I’m rolling by 9:45 am Friday morning. We will rendezvous at the Sunset Inn in Fredericksburg late in the day.



Made a stop at my kid brother’s in San Antonio for lunch and a chance to catch up. Never been able to cajole him into taking up motorcycling. Aviation his thing, so he can appreciate the feeling of “flying low”!



The rest of the day is uneventful. The Sunset Inn in Fredericksburg is clean and reasonably priced, but has no amenities to speak of. I spend the afternoon reading Ender’s Game and giving my bike a good inspection for tomorrow.
Oli-San takes his Super Ténéré off grid all the way from Orange to Fredericksburg…



… and arrives around 8 pm. After dinner in town, we work up a route that will put us on tasty roads beginning just south of Kerville. We head out around 7:00 am Saturday morning, grab breakfast locally at a place called Mahaleys Cafe, and beat feet for the Three Sisters with a route in mind that looks something like this:



For most of the morning, it’s all about the Sisters…



…and they are very curvy and nicely twisted…



…just the way we like em’!



Lunchtime finds us back in Leaky, and like bees are drawn to honey, bikers are drawn to the Hog Pen… and occasionally guys on roadsters and super-tens too. The food was good, but I really got a kick out of this vintage Honda Trail 70. I had one when I was a kid in candy apple red.



To my chagrin, this is my first time to ride the Three Sisters, and they were phenomenal! Indeed, Hwy. 16 a few miles south of Kerrville on was excellent riding. But, why the paucity of pictures of the Three Sisters? Really, the best part of this trip is yet to come. We are back to the hotel by 3 pm to rest a bit and set out for the county courthouse in Mason Texas to meet the steward of the Nature Conservancy’s Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve.

Way back as an undergrad and aspiring wildlife biologist, I took an interest in bat biology and conservation. Turned out being stationed in the Texas Hill Country was an ideal location for me to pursue that interest as there are several caves and man-made structures that support large colonies of Mexican free-tailed bats. One that I visited years ago was the James River Preserve. I’ll never forget the first time I watched the colony (over 3 million females and juveniles) “emerge” in masse from the cave to disperse across the Edward’s Plateau to feast on insects.

The Preserve is less than an hour north of Fredericksburg in the small town of Mason…



… but the last 8 miles is on poorly maintained loose stuff that culminates at a natural crossing at the James River. I remember it being interesting in a pick-up years ago, but I was not sure about crossing it on my roadster. A query and reply from some ADVers on TWT boosted my confidence that I, and surely Oli-San on his super-ten, could make the crossing. It turned out to be a non-issue, because when I called the preserve steward to get the time for the emergence (7:30-ish PM), the conversation turned to our mode of transportation. She offered to pick us up at the Mason County courthouse (where we could park our bikes under the watchful eyes of daughter that worked across the street at the sheriff’s office) on her way to the preserve around 5:30. I instantly accepted, and for the duration of the outing Oli-San and I felt like VIPs.

The courthouse at the town square, where we changed from bikers to hikers in broad daylight but aroused no suspicion.



Vicki, the preserve steward, picks us up in mini-pickup. Oli-San graciously considers my advanced age and climbs behind the seat and plops into a sideways jump-seat not really engineered for an adult frame. But from back there he got a few shots of James River Road…



…and the James River crossing.



On the edge of a small gravel parking areas, one finds the trail to the cave…



…where western diamondback rattlesnakes are a frequent occurrence this time of year.



Oli-San scans the rugged Hill Country setting.



You smell the cave before you see it, and a sign reminds late arrivals to approach quietly.



These provide an interesting summary of the recent history of the cave.



The Eckert James River bat cave. Just to the right is the seating area in a natural amphitheater in a motte of low-growing trees that provide much needed shade. Vicki hurries about to get ready for the evening program.



The cave, as well as the land it sits in, was donated to The Nature Conservancy by Richard and Virginia Eckert in honor of their father, Lee Eckert, and grandfather, W. Phillip Eckert. The property had been in the family since 1907, and it’s reported that the two elder Eckerts not only mined the bat guano in the cave to sell to local farmers for fertilizer, they also worked to insure the long term conservation of the colony, recognizing its ecological importance.



Vicki started her program about 7 PM, by which time a number of other spectators had arrived to watch the show.



This depicts the radar signature of bats emerging from Hill Country sites in the early evening. I recall during my stint in the Air Force years ago, there were certain times when flight was restricted near Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio due to its proximity to another large cave.


Vicki also introduced the crowd to these little guys; flesh eating beetles that also inhabit the cave. They make a meal of the bat guano, and any underlings that lose their grip and fall to the bottom of the cave. Striped to the bone in three minutes!



And around 7:15, as if on cue, a few bats emerge from the cave, make several loops into and out of cave, and finally fly away.



Before long there is a veritable bat tornado streaming from the cave. Apparently they use this “vortexing” as a means to provide lift and pull the accumulated toxic gases from the cave. Here are some pictures that Vicki provided to me on a CD, they put mine to shame and show how amazing the emergence really is!







So after a while, Vicki pulls out a long handled dip net and attempts to push it into the flight path of the emerging bats to collect one. After a few minutes she has no luck as the bats seem to be deliberately avoiding the net. Oddly enough, I’m seated in the best position as the bats are swarming out of the cave just a few feet in front of my face… so she hands me the net!



Second try yields a bat! Now I can add this to my vitae! An adult female.



The free portion of the tail (hence the common name Mexican free-tailed bat)



A face only a mother could love!



This is a great outing for kids!



An hour after it starts, bats are still emerging from the cave. By this time there is a “ribbon” of flying bats streaming off into the distance, and said aggregation gets the attention of a marauding red-tailed hawk!



The hawk plunges through the cloud of bats, taking them in flight!



The emergence continues well past sunset, and it’s nearly dark as we depart the cave and hike back to the parking area. Vicki delivers us back at the courthouse well after dark where transition back into riding gear.



Finding no open restaurants in Mason, we head back to Fredericksburg at a cautious pace as the deer were out in force. A Clif Bar back at the hotel would have to hold us until the morrow. It was a great, full day made even better having spent it on two wheels. In the morning, we broke camp so to speak, and paid another visit to Mahaleys Cafe for breakfast.



Next stop, Luckenbach!

txplants screwed with this post 09-21-2013 at 01:20 PM
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Old 09-22-2013, 06:16 AM   #2
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Did this exact same trip back in May of this year, There's some great riding out there!
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Old 09-22-2013, 12:36 PM   #3
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Riding, Texas hospitality, bats, pancakes. Life is good.
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Old 09-23-2013, 08:11 PM   #4
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Wink Hill Country blast!!

I really had a blast on this trip! The roads are perfect. The bats are really cool. On the way home we also had some time to swing by Luckenback.


There, the chicken runs free... i know it's not as glamour as the bats but still...


And here is the bar...

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Old 09-24-2013, 04:13 AM   #5
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Fascinating thread with great pictures and a terrific story behind them. I very much enjoyed reading all of this. Thanks so much for sharing with us
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Old 09-24-2013, 09:28 PM   #6
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Great post. Looks like a fantastic ride. I live in the Heights. Hit me up if you're ever looking for an excuse to throw a leg over.
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Old 09-26-2013, 08:04 PM   #7
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Fascinating thread with great pictures and a terrific story behind them. I very much enjoyed reading all of this. Thanks so much for sharing with us
Thanks, Clearwater!
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Old 09-26-2013, 08:04 PM   #8
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Great post. Looks like a fantastic ride. I live in the Heights. Hit me up if you're ever looking for an excuse to throw a leg over.
Thanks, and will do... you do the same!
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Old 09-28-2013, 07:08 AM   #9
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Talking some more pics...

Happy sign on the twisted sisters:


Hill Country Landscape:
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Old 09-28-2013, 10:44 AM   #10
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A grand ride
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Old 11-16-2013, 10:43 AM   #11
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A grand ride

Cool ride I have ridden across Texas a couple of times it is way to hot. I would do it again though because that is the way I am. Toni would come along for the ride. You are right way to hot for tents.
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Old 11-17-2013, 04:28 PM   #12
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Loved it! I've been to Mason and James River a zillion times and never checked out the bats, thanks!
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Old 11-17-2013, 04:56 PM   #13
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Great area of Texas to ride. Just so you know it is spelled Leakey and Luckenbach. Both great places.
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Old 11-18-2013, 05:51 AM   #14
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Loved it! I've been to Mason and James River a zillion times and never checked out the bats, thanks!
Thanks Mudclod! The bats make for a great side-trip!

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