Submitted by Bonnie and Tom A
Four weeks ago on our balcony in downtown Chicago a Monarch butterfly landed for a few moments rest in the sun and then flew away. We suspected he was headed south towards the pine forests of Mexico for the winter and wondered if he’d arrive there before we did or if he’d arrive at all. Would it be a different generation of butterflies that would hang out at 9,000 feet altitude this winter in central Mexico? The mystery of their migration is constantly up for debate, but no matter how they got to the pine forest, it was sure to be an incredible sight to see. Only an hour or so outside of Mexico City, the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary exists for tourists to experience this phenomenon. There are other sanctuaries in the state of Michoacan, which are also beautiful and more remote, but this was an easy day trip from the city to the Mexican countryside. They offered horse rides up the hillside, to which we gladly agreed given the thin air and the promise of a long hike. Our guides knew exactly where to go and guided our horses safely to a hitching post about 3/4 of the way. Once we dismounted, we still had a strenuous and steep hillside hike to where the Monarchs had gathered up in the trees. We had to be very quiet and because of the silence, we could hear them fluttering around in the air above us. It was a cold day for Mexico so they stayed clustered in the trees together. On warmer days they’ll fly to lower altitudes for water and if you stand still enough, they’ll start to cover you! As the winter progresses, they move lower and lower in the forest as they’ve eaten everything available higher up. Although it was mid-November there were still so many of them who had already arrived. They start their migration back to the US & Canada in March. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have all winter to stay with them and headed out only a few hours after our arrival.