Claudia & I (Domino too) recently visited an area a few hour’s drive west of Mexico City where Monarch Butterflies take their winter rest after an unbelievable summertime tour that takes them up to 3000 miles north and as far as southern Canada – and back. If their incredible trip weren’t enough to contemplate, watching the butterflies roosting this frosty morning in the Mexican mountain forest was a truly awe inspiring experience. The “Transverse Neo-volcanic Mountains” cross east to west across central Mexico and feature giant volcanic peaks as high as 18,000 feet in elevation. It’s high elevation summits, which also surround Mexico City, provide the moisture needed to produce the dense pine forest that the butterflies use as their winter home.
We arrived at the parking lot early on a weekday and found ourselves completely alone except for park employees. After a brisk hike up the well-traveled mountain trail, we arrived at the site just as the sun peeked over nearby summits and started to warm the wings of what must have been millions of butterflies. The guide explained that the butterflies take off and begin to forage after the morning sun warms them. As we arrived we began to see tree after tree whose trunks were completely covered by the Monarchs. One minute they are covering the trunks of the pines and the next they release their grip and float out into the forest. Soon the space around us is filled with butterflies performing an impressive air show.
We sat alone and in complete silence and watched for about a half hour before starting our trip back down. As we descended, we met two school bus loads of screaming school kids headed up the mountain. While it’s great that local schools are here (at least I hope) teaching kids about how important it is to preserve habitats for wild animals, it reminded me of how pressured fragile places like this are by us humans. Maybe that’s the cost of preserving these areas. Allowing people to make money renting horses and providing guide services to bring tens of thousands of paying visitors to the site each year may be the only way to keep them from cutting down the forest for money and destroying this international treasure for good. I encourage everyone to read more about the precarious status of the Monarch Butterfly – one of the most beautiful, graceful species on the planet. Unfortunately, the most destructive threat to these beauties is not the Mexicans and their logging activities in the central mountains. Guess who?