I remember watching a National Geographic episode a few years ago called “Great Migrations”. One of the images that really stuck in my mind was the pine trees sagging with the weight of thousands of monarch butterflies at their overwintering spot in Mexico. At the time, we were living in England and I never really imagined that I would see this with my own eyes. But here we are.
We drove the long and winding roads up to the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve in the afternoon and set up for another chilly mountain night in the carpark. A few local kids crowded around the van and corrected our broken Spanish while we chatted. As the sun set over the mountains we had our fingers crossed for a clear and sunny morning, the best conditions for viewing the butterflies.
The morning broke cool and clear and the frosty ground crunched under our feet, as we followed our guide up the forested trail to one of the biggest butterfly colonies.
We had our eyes peeled for signs of butterflies but didn’t see any until finally we rounded a bend and noticed that the tress looked a little different. As if they had fat, heavy orange leaves instead of green pine needles.
But they aren’t leaves at all, they’re butterflies. When the weather is cool they all cluster together on the south side of the trees, completely covering the leaves, branches and trunks.
When the sun hits them, they open their wings to soak up the heat and then take to the air. We stood around for about an hour in the chilly morning air just taking it all in.
It was truly incredible to see them in such great numbers. Who would have thought that the boring old orange butterfly that you see everywhere was actually so amazing. Every year, they travel from Canada all the way down to central Mexico. These little things manage to complete that trip in less time than we did. And the most incredible thing is that the journey is far longer than the lifespan of any individual. They actually breed a few times along the way, so the ones that return to the north in the summer are actually the great-great-grandkids of the ones that left there the year before. I wonder if our great-great-grandkids will one day retrace our path across half the world.
The path back to the car park is lined with little clapboard restaurant shacks. On the advice of our guide we chose Augustina’s Cocina and had one of the best breakfasts ever. I’d go back just for the food.