Tag Archives: Monarch butterflies

Fragile, Glorious Monarch Butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico

We are in sacred space. Coming to Mineral de Angangueo is like making a pilgrimage. Here in the winter home of the Monarch Butterfly — Mariposa Monarca — these glorious insects hang in colonies like giant grape clusters, suspended from the branches of majestic Douglas fir trees. We are at 10,000 feet altitude. The height is dizzying. The spectacle even more so. A million wings beating that together sound like raindrops.

At the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve

I hear the heartbeat of Mother Nature. I hear the natural cycle of life. I feel the will to live. I see small, fragile, glorious golden insects that travel up to 3,000 miles to this sanctuary. This is a cycle repeated over thousands of years. From Canada to the United States to Mexico and back again.

This is a survival mission that depends on habitat and escape from natural predators. We are witness to life. It reminds me to be vigilant about conserving our resources. We are at the edge. Perhaps past it.

The orange you see are hundreds of butterfly wings.

Fear of Monarch Butterfly extinction because of milkweed extermination from insecticides. Yet, the population this year increased 144%. Why? It is a mystery. The Michoacan colonies were not discovered until the 1970’s, relatively recently.

Monarch butterflies drinking from a creek, Michoacan, Mexico

This is the year of the butterfly in Mexico. A local trail guide says there are between 900,000 and 120 million here. It is warm. Sunny. Perfect. The future is unpredictable.

Clustered colonies of butterflies, dark shadows against a pure blue sky

On the first day into butterfly territory, our group of ten women participating with me on our Michoacan Folk Art and Butterfly Study Tour enter the sanctuary at El Rosario. It is the largest and most easily accessible of those in the region. Our amazing, knowledgeable Patzcuaro guide, Jaime Hernandez Balderas of Animecha Tours, leads the way.

We ride horseback into remote Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Reserve
The Gang of Five Butterfly Navigators to Sierra Chincua: Cindy, Donna, Susan, Susie, Norma

On the second day, five of us (plus Jaime) continue on to Sierra Chincua, a smaller, more remote site, accessible only by horseback and foot. I hadn’t been on a horse since I rode in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, as a young teen. The adventure of butterfly discovery was heightened by the experience of riding down dusty, rocky slopes to where only few go.

Fallen Monarchs at trailside, taken by birds and mice

We wear masks to protect us from the dusty trail that leads down into the reserve where the butterfly colonies roost. The colonies can move. Huge, living organisms of beating wings in the tree-tops from January through March each year.

Deep into the Douglas Fir forest, a sacred sanctuary

Basic facts about Monarch Butterflies

Sierra Chincua is deep in the forest. Trees become a cathedral with sunlight filtering through fir needles. Here it is quieter. People are more reverential. The viewing site is small, room enough for perhaps twenty people. We look down the hillside and are at eye level with the clusters of the colonies. They look like large black sacks against the blue sky backdrop. I see distant volcanic mountains. Breathe deeply. Take it in. Want it to stay with me. This meditation on the extraordinary.

I pull out my binoculars and focus skyward. In the shadows of the clusters I see the veins of thousands, wings pulsing, undulating. I look to the light and see the miraculous orange wings. A wind comes up and the wings pulse in rapid succession. The trees move to bring in more sun. Insects take flight. It looks like a shimmering sea of gold.

I’d say this is a bucket list experience.

Me and Winn on horseback, preparing to ride to to the colonies

There is no telling what the future will bring for these creatures as global warming encroaches, as pollution impacts our environment, as chemicals destroy habitat.

We meet a local Angangueo woman along the trail who safeguards the path

The indigenous people of the region say that the butterflies are the souls of our loved ones. One of our travelers says that if you don’t believe in God, you will now. Regardless of religion or belief system, being here is transcendent, resplendent, reverent. It is a sanctuary where the spiritual envelops us. Each moment here offers hope for survival and continuity.

Donna emerges from photographing a butterfly

I want to recommend that you read Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, and that you read about the Monarch Butterfly migration from Mexico to the USA, then to Canada and back again.

Millions of Monarch Butterflies: A Visit to the Biosphere Reserve in Michoacan, Mexico: Study Tour Details

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the State of Michoacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It encompasses most of the municipality of Angangueo, an old mining town high in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and the Sierra Angangueo.  Average altitude here is 8,500 feet.
An overnight visit to this tunneled colonial mountain town to explore the butterfly sanctuary is part of our Michoacan Folk Art + Textile Study Tour set to start January 31, 2019.

We may see millions of Monarch butterflies

There are several sanctuaries where the Monarchs gather in colonies that sometimes reach over 20 million individuals. They travel more than 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) from Canada to Mexico from November through March, completing several generations of the life cycle.
We will have a half-day plus a full day in Angangueo on February 8 and 9 of our January 31 to February 11 study tour to explore one or two butterfly sanctuaries and the historic mining town. We will arrive from Patzcuaro in time for 12:30-2:30 p.m. butterfly activity. You get into the sanctuary by horseback or hiking. Your tour includes transportation into the sanctuary by horse!

Butterfly life cycle

Six spaces are spoken for! Four spaces are available. Is one of them for you?
Send me an email after you review the complete study tour itinerary and let me know if you want to participate.