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Millions of bats make abandoned Texas Hill Country railroad tunnel their home

Visitors to Texas’s smallest state park, located near Fredericksburg, can catch the nightly swarm of bats during the summer and early fall months.

FREDERICKSBURG, Texas — Until the early 1940s, when people in Fredericksburg wanted to visit San Antonio without having to drive, they took a train.

The route by the long-forgotten San Antonio, Fredericksburg and Northern Railroad Company took travelers through the Hill Country. When it was discovered that one of the hills was too steep for the locomotive to climb, workers dug a tunnel in 1913 for the train tracks.

The route lasted until 1942 when the railroad company went bankrupt and the tunnel was abandoned.

Several years later, a nearby landowner thought he saw smoke rising from the old tunnel one evening at sunset. He went for a closer look and discovered that it wasn’t smoke but the nightly swarm of millions of Mexican free-tailed bats leaving their home for the nightly feast of insects.

Their sunset-flight continues to this day. Nearly every evening from May through October, visitors can catch their emergence from the tunnel at Texas’s smallest state park, known simply as the Old Tunnel State Park.

Located south of Fredericksburg in Gillespie County, the park offers its visitors a front-row seat to the nightly ritual. The best months for viewing, according to park rangers, are August and September after bats give birth to their offspring.

It’s considered one of the best “bat shows” in the state, but one that has limited seating, so it’s best to check out the details at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department website.

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