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Butterfly Blizzard: Macheros to San Juan de Teotihuacan

From San Miguel de Allende we headed about 4 hours south to witness the phenomenon of the monarch butterfly migration in the eastern-most corner of Michoacán. Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies flock to the Sierra Madre mountains for their winter hibernation, having flown all the way from the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada. These Monarch butterflies use the very same trees each and every year when they migrate, which is weird because they aren’t the same butterflies that were there the year before. These are a fourth generation of the previous Mexico butterflies, so it's a mystery that they know where to go. This is one of the most complex animal migration on earth, and no one knows why the come back each year to this particular mountain range.

I was a little nervous to make this drive, having heard about all the violence in Michoacán, so I was glad we caravanned there with the Flightless Kiwis, Ben and Emma. We also met up with more Kiwi's (Derek and Melissa) when we got there who were on their way up to Alaska from Argentina. We all camped in the parking lot/camp area at the entrance of the Macheros Butterfly Preserve at the base of Cerro Pelon peak. We went to this particular area to observe the butterflies since it was reported to have the most intact habitat. I really wanted to see this natural phenomenon because the numbers are in serious decline. For me, an important part of travel is seeing the natural world I know might not exist in the same form (or at all) later in my life. This is one of them. Last year their population reached the lowest numbers ever recorded. Logging in the area is a factor, but pesticides used in the U.S and Canada have reportedly caused the overall decline. Recent studies definitely link the monarch's decline with Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide. Losing these butterflies means wiping out insects, birds and small mammals that rely on the monarch and its place in the food chain. So drug cartel shootouts or not, I was determined to see this phenomenon before it disappears.

After 26 days, John's foot had healed enough for him to make the hike. Which is good because it was a fast 7 mile round trip hike straight up the mountain, with an elevation gain of about 2,500 feet to get to the butterflies. We hired two horses just in case, and Emma and Melissa took them up the mountain with the rest of us huffing and puffing our way up to the over 10,000 ft. peak. Once there, we saw thousands of them clustered in the trees. It's like the site of the butterfly Burning Man. They cling together in clusters that weigh down thick branches of the fir trees, turning the branches from green to orange. As the sun rose and it got warmer, they took to the sky in orange flurries - it looked like a butterfly blizzard. By mid-afternoon they covered branches as far as we could see, as well as the bushes and ground. We stayed for a couple of hours just watching them. It was really spectacular.

It is hard to capture the feeling of being surrounded by millions of butterlfies in this forest high in the mountains. Everywhere you look they are fluttering around you, and because there are so many - you can hear their wings. It sounds like the wind, but different.

I can't get this video to imbed, but here they are in action:

The hike up took about 2 hours. We had to keep pace with the horses!

This part of Mexico is beautiful.

Clusters of Monarchs in the fir trees turning them orange.

Mating season has started...

Once we made the trek back down and showered off the trail dust, Derek suggested we all go get a trout for dinner from the local trout ponds that dot the hillside of this little mountain town. Fabulous, except none of us really had cooked whole fish before. So we each got one to experiment on, and an extra just in case we each screwed it up (Emma called it the community fish). We all raided what was left in our tiny fridges and rustled up quite a feast. They were all perfectly edible (not fantastic, however) and we toasted to a great day.

Road down from the mountian into Macheros

Entrance to the preserve building and our camping spot for 2 nights.

We were the only 3 rigs camped here. It was a great spot.

Our butterfly guide. Not a word of English and didn't stop once on the way up..but super nice man.

Not exactly trout fishing. I guess it's trout netting.

Trout Feast

2 sets of Kiwis and us. We are the shiny, beefy Americans on the left.

The next morning we headed out with the Flightless Kiwis to a campground about 40 miles north of Mexico City, in the small town of San Juan de Teotihuacan. The campground was completely full with 20 huge rigs of snowbirds heading north, but the very friendly owner let us pull in and just park our 2 rigs right at the entrance inside the gate...practically on top of two other rigs we met in San Miguel. It was cozy to say the least.

I think the campground is...full.

Street food I could partake in. Lunch in Teotihuacan

The town is right next to the ruins of Teotihuacan, which are the largest ruins in Mexico and the third largest in the world. They are some of the most visited ruins in Mexico, which was very apparent when we visited. Tons of people. We spent an afternoon there roaming around the huge site. Next, we are headed into Mexico City.

So these are the oldest, biggest pre-hispanic ruins in the world? Huh.

The town of San Juan de Teotihuacan

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