Sunday, 14 February 2016
At last my husband and I saw the monarchs' overwintering grounds at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve and what an experience it was. (El Rosario is a World Heritage site and the largest of five preserves open to the public.The preserve is located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests ecoregion on the border of Michoacán and Mexico State, 100 km northwest of Mexico City.) We drove by rental car three hours out of Mexico City (yes, that's how long it took us), spent three nights at Rancho San Cayetano, a lovely rustic resort near Zitacuaro and then rode horseback nearly 10,000 feet up a mountainside to see these amazing, plucky creatures in their natural habitat. I had written about visiting the monarchs' overwintering grounds in my second novel, Feeling for the Air, but I had only seen them in videos and on an IMAX screen. I think my previous description was adequate, but nothing--no words, no pictures can really do these little characters justice.
Luckily for us, the monarchs (who are threatened by climate changes, illegal logging of their favorite oyamel trees, the use of pesticides and the eradication of the milkweed they are so dependent on) were stronger and more numerous than they have been in previous years. Our Mexican guide, Marcello (who is also a part time migrant worker and as such follows the same migratory routes as the monarchs), told us people were also concerned this year when the first monarchs failed to arrive like they usually do on November 1. But come they did, a few weeks later, robust and healthy, well-prepared to take a long, well-deserved rest before it was time for them to leave in March, mate in Texas and for their descendants to find their way back to Canada. They have been doing this forever.
It was a sunny day when we visited, a real plus.If it isn't sunny, the monarchs cluster together for warmth like huge, sagging bunches of grapes on the oyamel trees. They need the sun to fly. I felt a little like Dr. Fred Urquhart and his wife Nora must have felt the first time they visited. The Urquharts and my husband and myself were about the same ages as they were when they confirmed that Canadian butterflies really do fly so far south. All of us (the Urquharts, myself and my husband) were almost too old to go.
Riding horseback at my age especially with my lack of experience was definitely daunting, but well worth the experience we had. In a very short time, we were surrounded by butterflies as numerous (at least to my eyes) as the stars in the sky. Visitors, almost without exception, were silent and awestruck except to say inadequate things like "Oh,my." People stood stock-still when the butterflies landed on them, staring at them transfixed.
We took many pictures, but none of them do the monarchs justice.