Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Monarch butterfly sanctuary

I returned from a magical experience last night. I traveled with a tour presented by the Audubon society and it was a wonderful break. 
We viewed a movie about the incredible Monarch's venture while traveling in the van to Michoacán. The first day we spent in another town and I will post photos another day. Yesterday we arrived at the sanctuary. We had hired horses to take us up the steep mountain trail. About one third of the way, I decided I would walk. This turned out to be a happy "mistake".

I had overlooked the fact that we were at 10,000 feet above sea level and I am not a kid of 65 anymore.
After loosing sight of the lead horses, I came to a cross road, a path really, and didn't know which trail the horses had taken. "I'll wait here until the next bunch of horses come up and then I'll follow their lead", I thought. After about 15 minutes of waiting and watching, I decided I would just follow the horse poop. Clever thinking, but when that disappeared, I was left to choose any path and just experience this adventure. I soon found that I could only go 8 or 9 steps up the steep incline before I had to stop and wait for my heart to stop pounding and and my breathing to return to normal. This gave me the perfect opportunity to listen to the silence, well almost silence. The birds chirped joyfully in the distance and the only other sound was the almost imperceptible whisper of millions of Monarch butterfly wings. The Monarchs and I seemingly were in a world alone. 

I climbed higher and higher, stopping more often for breath. Finally I lay still on the ground breathing the pine scented air and allowing my senses to become one with the magic. I was grateful that I was "lost". After about two and a half hours, I decided to go back down the mountain, hoping I could find my way to the parking lot, before I was reported missing. Skidding down the dusty, uneven trail, I started picturing all the trouble I would cause if I broke a leg and a search party would have to be sent for me. Little girls had been selling walking sticks at the base of the mountain. Now I understood why. 
Fortunately, I found a sturdy stick to aid me in the ankle twisting decline.
I got home last night, all in one piece, exhausted, but my mind was floating on the wings of a butterfly.

The story of these amazing butterflies is below as well as more photos.

An extraordinary experience awaited me at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, nestled high in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. For it is here, at altitudes above 10,000 feet, that the Monarchs take their winter rest in the sheltering forests of oyamel fir, pine, oak and madrone. They have completed one journey, and after hibernating through the winter months, they will begin another. Sometime in March, the Monarchs will begin their migration northward.
The uncountable millions of Monarchs that the visitor sees in the sanctuary are a group called the "Methuselah" generation. They emerge from their cocoons as far north as southern Canada, and spend the summer fattening up on the milkweed (algodoncillo) plant. They do not develop sexually, instead putting all of their life force into the nearly 3,000 mile flight they must make in the fall. They leave in August and September, averaging 45 to 80 miles a day, and arrive in Mexico in November, never having flown the route before. Using a combination of instinct and the ability to navigate by sun, they often arrive back at the very same trees from which their ancestors departed. Here, they will hibernate for the winter months.
When this "Methuselah" generation flies north in the spring they finally become sexually active. They mate and lay eggs, perhaps in Northern Mexico or California. Their job is done, and they die. The succeeding generations are short-lived, lasting only about a month, just long enough to push a few hundred miles northward and produce another generation. So it goes for 3-5 generations, depending upon the northern terminus of the route. The final generation to emerge in late summer will be the "Methuselahs," and the cycle is complete. This multi-generational migration, which has repeated itself from time immemorial, is unique in the insect realm.
To visit the sanctuary when the Monarchs are active is to be immersed in a natural event that is akin to a spiritual experience. Millions of Monarchs loft from the trees in living, shimmering clouds and rain downward to envelop the stunned onlooker. The whispering, murmuring sound of a countless multitude of fluttering wings creates an aural dimension that is mesmerizing and unlike any other. The visitor feels grateful and privileged to have witnessed this amazing spectacle, and is glad to learn that at least here in Mexico, every effort is being made to preserve the habitat upon which the Monarchs rely.

Time for a drink

You need to be very still to hear the music of their wings.

Mating. This is what they came to Mexico to do

The trail down

How could I not venture down this path?

Opps. There go the horses!

O.K. I wasn't entirely alone. This man and his burro came down the mountain carrying fire wood


  1. Wow! What an amazing story and fantastic pictures! So many cool. Thanks for sharing all of your butterfly pictures and the story of their migration. I am so glad you made it back in one piece!

  2. It was a magical experience.Mexico is so diverse and there are still some States, I haven't visited but they are on my list of things to do.


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