High in the mountains of northeastern Michoacán, the Mexican Federal Government has created a sanctuary for monarch butterflies. The 160-sq-km reserve is the winter home of an estimated 100 million butterflies which migrate there each year from as far away as Canada.
In February 2012, my husband and I hired a driver in Morelia to take us on a day trip to the butterfly reserve 3 to 4 hours away. Since we made our visit very early on a weekday morning, we missed the daily busloads of tourists and the weekend crowds from Mexico City.
The long walkway from the parking lot to the entrance meanders past stands for the selling of crafts and food, the majority of which were closed that quiet morning. As you take this walk toward the reserve and begin the assent, you become aware of butterflies, many butterflies – in the air, on the ground, flying into your face.
At the reserve entrance, you are shown a film about the sanctuary and the migration of monarch butterflies and then introduced to your guide. The high altitude makes the hike a challenge for some; however, riding on a horse is an alternative.
As you work your way up the mountain, the butterflies flutter through the air in a kind of blizzard and you must pay attention to avoid stepping on them. Our gently-mannered ranger guided our movements through the butterflies and pointed out potential camera shots. As we walked up, and then down the pathways and stairs, we passed professional photographers with very long lenses and small groups of scientists in deep conversation.
Since we visited the sanctuary near the end of winter, the butterflies had begun moving down the mountain. The weight of millions of fluttering butterflies, amassed around fir trees, is sufficiently great to force branches to bow. A truly surreal experience.
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By Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
© Riding the buses 2012