Lonely Planet doesn’t list the Mariposa Reserve in Michoacan Mexico as one of the 100 places to visit before you die, but it should. Our Audubon trip to the El Rosario Reserve last week has been the highlight of our trip to Mexico.
We left early on a Thursday morning. By midday we were in a little canyon wonderland of an Inn called Aguablanca located on the banks of a river, lush with towering yellow ficus trees, maidenhair ferns, bananas trees, bamboo. What a pleasure to be once again in a world of green and to hear the sound of wind through trees accompanied by the song of a fast moving river. And the elegantly shaped hot spring pools were both restorative and beautiful with their purple jacaranda highlights.
Our education about the incredible life cycle of the monarchs began on the bus ride down with a documentary about a pilot who followed the annual migration from Canada to Mexico in an ultralight, and continued in the evening with a Nova special on the monarchs. Millions of monarchs from the US and Canada return to the forests of Michoacan’s mountain peaks every fall where they spend the winter huddled in the treetops. In March, they mate and then die. Their children begin the trek back north in April. Along the way, 2 more generations will lay eggs and it will be the third generation that makes it back to the far north. The 4th and final generation will return to Michoacan in the fall. Imagine returning to the forest of your great, great grandparents whom you never met. Monarch butterflies are the only species on the planet with such a multi-generational migration.
On Friday morning we entered a high mountain reserve where at first it appeared as though there was some kind of rust on the leaves and trunks of the towering trees. But soon it became clear that what we were seeing was millions, and I do mean millions, of monarchs huddled together to stay warm. As the sun got warmer they began to flutter about, clouds of golden orange. If you sat really quietly you could hear the rustle of their wings.
I thought I would come away with incredible pictures, but swarms at a distance are beyond the ability of my camera to capture. And the distance that I as photographer needed to capture the experience left me missing the very heart of the moment. So after some feeble attempts, I surrendered to one of the most stunning mornings of my life and will remember always the gentle whoosh of a million wings in flight.