Monday, March 16, 2009

Monarchs in Michoacán

Millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the U.S. and Canada each fall to a mountaintop in central Mexico. They navigate to an evergreen grove they’ve never seen before: the same one that sheltered their ancestors. How do they do it? Scientists are researching this intriguing question, but they don’t have definite answers. (See

A trip to Michoacán to see the monarchs has been on our places-to-go-in-Mexico list for years. This year we finally did it. An expedition to the preserve -- El Rosario Sanctuary in Ocampo -- has to be timed just right. Late February and early March are best because the butterflies come out of their semi-dormant state as the temperature rises. The weather on the day of the visit should be warm and sunny. If it’s too cold, the butterflies hang from the trees, wings folded, to conserve energy.

Hiking up the mountain to the butterflies’ grove was strenuous. I’m used to aerobic walks in San Pancho’s hills, but my husband Skip…. Let’s just say it wasn’t realistic to expect he’d be thrilled by a steep trek to 10,000 feet.

He and I agreed, though, that what we saw at the top of the mountain was worth our effort: orange and black monarchs wafting in the sunlight, clustering in rivulets of water, mating delicately, clinging to pine and fir trees. When I listened closely, I could hear a faint swishing sound: not wind in the pines, but the fluttering of butterfly wings.

The monarchs’ winter habitat is protected under Mexican law. However, experts say that local people are destroying the preserve by logging illegally and clearing land for crops. I’m not surprised. Three-year old children begged us for money as we climbed the trail to El Rosario’s entrance. If my kids were hungry, and I could get hundreds of dollars for a pine tree, I’d probably cut it down, too.

1 comment:

Tracy Novinger said...

It is, indeed, magical to hike to 10,000 ft. and to then be enveloped in a cloud of fluttering monarchs as one sits in the Spring sun. I sat still and soon was adorned in orange and black jewels as--to my delight--the butterflies landed on me. I also enjoyed this visit to the San Pancho Writers blog.