Naked, With Bats

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Cat’s Cradle: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” I had a peak experience over Labor Day that involved hundreds of thousands of bats, a double rainbow and naturists of all ages. I would not have had this experience if I hadn’t accepted a peculiar travel suggestion from my sister, Terry, to go to Valley View Hot Springs in southern Colorado with several friends. I’d long heard of Valley View as a former hippie watering place. Although I love hot springs, I imagined it would have funky bathroom options, messy kitchens and spacey people concocting meals that contain no meat, no gluten, no dairy and possibly no taste.

But… Terry told me there was an extraordinary natural phenomenon to be witnessed there. A large colony of Mexican Free-tailed bats spend the summer months in a collapsed mine near the hot springs. At dusk every night, the bats fly out of what’s called the “Glory Hole,” creating a flying black river across the San Luis Valley. I decided to go for the bats.

Photos by friend, Cheryl Vonn

Because it was a holiday weekend, Valley View–which has campsites and cabins–was sold out except for a room in a community house, where people use a shared kitchen and shared bathroom across the dirt road. I took it, thinking it would be like camping, with an indoor bed.

Checking in at the Welcome Center, I was told the entire resort is clothing optional. I’d been to places like Esalen in Big Sur, hot springs by the Rio Grande in New Mexico and Strawberry Park near Steamboat, Colorado, where the drill is: you walk to the hot pool area, take off your clothes and slide in, and after emerging, put the clothes back on.

Valley View is different. You see naturists, as they’re called now, walking everywhere and doing everything naked: cooking, eating, hiking, checking email, playing board games, making music. You see all age groups from babies to very old people walking with difficulty. Naked. There are no teenagers, or if they’re present they wear bathing suits, and the largest demographic is people in their 50s and 60s.

To my surprise, the grounds and buildings, though rustic, are clean and well maintained with rigorous environmental standards. The clientele is amazingly diverse: in addition to New Age types, there are conservative red-state people driving enormous RV’s or pulling airstream trailers; college kids volunteering on environmental work projects; and wholesome-looking families with young children. And when clothes are off, everyone talks with everybody else.

But let’s get to the bats. That’s what we came for, so shortly after checking in, we started the 1.7 mile trek up the mountainside, wearing layers of clothes because we’d been told the weather could turn cold or rainy. The Glory Hole looked like the set of a science fiction movie: jagged black caves, rust-colored rocks with gaping holes, and stone pinnacles pointing at the sky. About 30 people waited, expectant, checking their watches, wondering if this would be the night the bats wouldn’t fly out to hunt insects. I was staring at the ground when I heard the sudden flapping. Out came the bats, looking as small as flies at first. The species is only four inches long with a wingspan of twelve inches. As they emerged, backlit by the sun, they took on the rust color of the rocks and it was only when they fanned across the blue sky that we could see the familiar bat shape and color.

It was thrilling: they moved like a tornado cloud, spinning and twisting at 60 miles an hour. Gathering distance, they looked like a lacy ribbon unfurling across the valley. Individual bats would dart away from the cloud, circle and dive back in. They navigate by echolocation, sending out sound waves that, when reaching anything solid, tell the bats where and how big the object is. This creates extreme sensitivity to what’s around them. They fly over our heads, not among us, and sometimes you hear a crack when the sound waves of two bats collide and the bats carom away from each other.

Everyone stares, transfixed, and then, unbelievably, two rainbows appear next to the Glory Hole. The bats fly right through the arcs of color.

The out-flight lasts about ten minutes and when it stops, we want more. We wait, hopefully, for a second out-flight, but it doesn’t come. So we hike back to camp and receive another aesthetic thrill: the sun setting over the desert mountains. The horizon is vast and unobstructed, with streaks of red, orange and purple. When the sun disappears, the air in every direction turns creamy blue.

In the evening we hit the sauna, one of the nicest I’ve been in, with beautiful wood benches and a cold pool right in the center of the sauna so that when you get hot, you can dunk in the pool, then hoist yourself back onto the benches in the heat. Later we float on our backs in the Olympic size swimming pool, fed by natural spring water that’s warm–92 degrees! The Milky Way has never looked brighter and more clear.

The next day I speak with a grandmother whom I’ll call Judy, who’s the “camp host,” a plus-size woman with an all-over tan. She and her husband have been volunteering as hosts at Valley View for six weeks, living in a mammoth RV equipped with a flat screen TV and state of the art kitchen. They have three kids in their 30’s but, Judy says, “They don’t know we come here. My oldest son, who’s a banker, would be appalled.”

Judy grew up in the Midwest, “sheltered and ultra conservative,” she says. “It never crossed my mind that a place like this would exist.” Her husband discovered it online and visited it by himself while Judy was raising their kids. Many men come without their wives, I learned, and Judy told her husband she’d only come if he bought her an RV. So he did. “I was really shy at first, I wouldn’t talk to anyone,” she recalls. “Then I started to make friends. We all have something in common: no one cares what anybody else looks like. We’re just here to enjoy nature.”

Not wearing clothes is a great leveler; any pretense or formality is dropped, and people begin to feel relaxed and free. The most challenging aspect for me was the unisex bathroom, where I’d see men peeing into urinals while I was brushing my teeth.

After slipping in and out of warm waters all day, though, and the transporting experience with the bats, I awoke on the second morning feeling a kind of peace I hadn’t felt in some time.

Then came re-entry. We drove home, arriving in time to attend a Labor Day party held by friends. Everyone there was in high spirits, meeting and greeting and eating bountiful food, but the nature of connecting and talking was different from what I’d experienced in previous days. I tried to imagine what the gathering would be like if everyone shed their clothes. But that seemed beyond imagining.

Final words from Kurt Vonnegut: “Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’ Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand.”



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38 thoughts on “Naked, With Bats

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Sara: We met briefly on the last day of an Adjashanti retreat at Asilomar in December 2009. Since then, I have received and read your blog entries with great interest and enjoyment. This morning, I am quite busy, but saw that you had emailed another entry. I had to read it. I am so glad that I did. Your ability to describe experiences, people, and scenes, and to then put them all into context with the Kurt Vonnegut quotes, is incredible. I wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences, perspectives, and talent as a writer with me. All the best, Gary Osborne.

  2. Terri

    There are no accidents… I read Cat's Cradle at Berkeley and that phrase has been my watchword since then… Was great fun to to
    reread the book for book group and it was so diff from what I remembered.

  3. Anonymous

    Sara, was great fun to hear about this experience and how you made it uniquely yours. My first exposure to your writing in some months, and I am glad to know that you are doing so well. I look forward to future posts,

  4. Roger Yekel

    Hi Sara! Thanks for “taking me” to Valley View. I enjoyed it! I wonder what other cool places are right here in my own back yard? Enjoy the rest of the summer. Roger

  5. Digby

    Dear Sara,

    What a delight! Your description of the bats and of the relaxed feeling at the resort makes me want to go. And, of course, Kurt is always good to quote.


  6. Jay

    What an awesome experience you described. I'd love to go there some time…step out of my comfort zone, once again. And people from Red States? Maybe even Tea Partiers?… but never Sara P. (Yikes, just realized you have the same first name… sorry for bringing that up!). I love your writing style & how you described your whole experience. Thanks for sending this to little old me.

  7. Moyra

    Hi Sarah,
    Not sure if I managed to post my comments correctly on your Blog.
    I loved it – it was breathtaking and I was right there with you. I really felt like I'd been away for a few days and your experiences had become my own. A brilliant read – thank you!

  8. ValleyViewStaff

    We're thrilled you had such an amazing time! And the bats through the rainbow – awesome. Yes, we are very fortunate to work here, what with all the amazing things we have, including the bats – but it is experiences like yours, when people make such amazing personal connections to the resources, that keep us hard at work.
    Hope to see you again soon,

    Valley View Staff

  9. Ren Ruslan

    Lovely, Sarah. I remember the naked baths during our ten days at Esalen. The experience was freeing. We may need to check out the bats, sunsets, and naturism in due course as well. Thanks, Ren

  10. Cheryl M

    Chautauqua, NY also has bat colonies that come out at night by a church steeple. It is really neat,even though everybody is dressed. Chautauqua is a wonderful cultural place to go for the summer.

    Cheryl M

  11. Marcia Barhydt

    I may have told you before, Sarah, but I want to write as well as you do when I grow up.

    Ever since I read Leap! I've been a fan and your monthly blog delights me always.

    Thank you for being such a great example of truly fine writing!


  12. Barbra

    You didn't say whether or not you took off your clothes. I am assuming that you did.
    My 2nd husband and I used to go to various nudist colonies on vacations. Gay Head Beach on Martha's Vineyord was our favorite.
    He lived in one of only 2 nude apartment complexes in Los Angeles for some time after we divorced. It is in the Highland Park area.
    I got a kick out of visiting him there and seeing all ages engage in their normal activies in the nude.

  13. Anonymous


    After listening to Leap!-on-tape, twice, I wanted to pick up the phone and arrange a f2f meeting….it was so inspirational. I signed up, instead, for your monthly blog, and am ever so glad I did so. What a wonderful story, on so many levels…..and written in a way that I felt I was there with you, albeit with clothing on, wondering if I'd have the nerve to remove them in the presence of everyone. Hmmm, a new leap to try!!

  14. Anonymous

    It sounds as if you had an LSD experience without having taken the substance.! At least the times I've-had such amazing experiences, I had the drug on board and was prepared! Thanks so much for sharing. It's nicety know that there really are flashbacks. Yeh!

  15. Carol

    Hi Sarah,

    Funny that you wrote about bats…I went to Valley View in July for a volunteer project, and saw the bats. It was an amazing experience. Bats are wonderful creatures, and very important for our ecosystem.

    Carol Myers

  16. Sean

    Dear Sara, Serenity, tranquility and adventure all mixed together with your descriptive words form an image that calls out to my imagination and moves me on this quiet morning. Many thanks,

  17. Gary

    Well done. I was trying to figure out what the out flight looked like. The tornado analogy is perfect. Just came from the hot springs at Ojo Caliente where
    it is the exact opposite of Valley View. Everyone was very modest.

    Aloha Gary

  18. Sara Davidson

    Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and heartfelt responses. I write these blogs because I feel called to articulate and share experiences I've had. There is no monetary aspect involved. Your feedback is my reward, knowing we've connected through these words.
    with love, Sara

  19. Richard Rossner

    Great article, Sara. I love your writing! My only question – you had all those pictures, but only of the bats?!!

  20. Linda

    I loved your blog about Valley View and especially loved the double rainbow photo with the bats. We saw the double rainbow that night at sunset from the waterfall pool but didn’t make it on the bat hike this trip.

  21. Lynn

    Awesome Sara! Loved every picturesque word! Reminded me of a Brightenbush retreat with Nina Zimbelman years ago.

  22. Alicia Bay Laurel

    Your writing is as luscious as the subject! Thank you for this wonderful blog!

    I recall vividly how nudity practically erased class and ethnic barriers for all of us living at Wheeler Ranch hippie commune in the early 1970s. And I felt very comfortable the several times I visited the very bohemian clothing-optional Harbin Hot Springs since then.

    So, it was with some surprise that I found myself experiencing a moment of culture shock while visiting Living Waters Spa in Desert Hot Springs CA five years ago. I found rather disconcerting that first moment of being naked among “straight” people. Of course, I got over it pretty quickly; everyone was very relaxed and friendly in the hot springs pool. One more judgement/fear I found I didn't need.

    Michael Moore's Book of the Week on his website this week is Cat's Cradle. It's one of my faves as well.

  23. Gail Storey

    This was transporting, Sara, a rich take on of being natural in nature. I especially love how you interweave your experience with the naturists with your experience with the bats, lovely.

  24. JoAnn

    I showed my Mr. Man your blog and he is so excited about making plans to go to the hot springs. Since we love to be out in the snow and cold, we cannot wait to go around Nov/Dec. Thanks for sharing, didn't know this place existed and we come several times from St.Louis to ski in CO every winter. We are both older ex-hippies…in our 60's.. enjoy all your blogs and writings…. Thanks!!

  25. Michael John McCann

    Just wonderful. When I was in Manuel Antonio in the rain forest in Costa Rica. , next to my friends home was a two story home. At night thousands of bats would come out of the vent on top.It was quite thrilling to see them come out and swarm the air. We could sit on the porch as the sun set and never see a bug. In fact his house needed no screens.**** In my book for children , PurpleUmpkin, Cats and Dogs all get along and exchange hats as they talk with the Bats. Right to Kurt

  26. Beverly

    O My!! your descriptions took me way way back. I grew fond of the darling fruit bats that lived above my beach hut in Malaysia. Once in a while one would fly into the restaurant and hang upside down from the ceiling watching us all below, and constantly adjusting its huge ears. The little face was alert- – as befits a constant listener. The Australians dubbed their species “Flying Foxes,”, an aptly descriptive name. They look more like little foxes with wings than flying rodents. It was only concern about rabies that kept me from attempting to form a friendship.
    As for Naturists, I recommend a resort Lodge, near Los Gatos, CA, between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Chock full of Silicon Valley types… hot tub under the redwoods, Olympic pool, and watching naked retirees play volleyball . For those of you who have purient thoughts about all this… just imagine your average retiree couple, playing volleyball naked. Everything moves.
    Sexy, it is not. But it is illuminating. A fellow I met more than once at a nude resort, who seemed like a nice guy — -asked me out. A date in the clothed world. He turned up in a brown plaid horse-blanket sport-coat with a blue tie, and Nikes. I had on heels and my best leather coat. Yes, folks,in the Big World Outside… clothes do say a lot. We both tried to hide the dismay on our faces.
    It turns out that he was the first naked bigot I ever met. The romance didn't go very far.
    But in a hot hot tub in Santa Cruz I regularly ran into my former English Prof at San Jose State. Also a Martial Arts stunt man who had worked a movie for which I had auditioned. There were Lesbians in love . . .
    As for the men who came without their wives . . .. very few are cruising the young women. They just loved the experience in the redwood mountains . .. “To feel the wind against my whole body, ” one executive-type said. They did enjoy looking at the young women. .. but I got the feeling that it was because it had been decades since they had seen a young woman naked, and as a whole, girls are beautiful. It was an esthetic holiday for them. They even talked to middle-aged me.
    There were couples who pulled in their RVs and stayed. Lived there naked all year around. Idyllic.
    Young families, too. The Lodge is family-owned, and squeaky – clean. They keep the membership[ ratio of single men and single women at 50-50. This keeps out the horndogs.
    I have thought of spending a week there as a vacation, but would have to rent a car to leave to go anywhere else for a day trip .. . As a way of life, I think it is restrictive. But once in a while. . . .ahh, wine in the tub under the redwoods and a full moon.
    You realize life is very very good.

    Bev in Honolulu

  27. Anonymous

    I too visited a camp in New jersey where clothing was not needed and it was so freeing. However your entire experience is beyond anything that I have ever heard of and I intend to make this a place for me to be a part of in some way. I have been going thru illness and somehow your words brought me light and peace, something to look forward to. GOLD BLESS YOU

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