The Magnificent Monarch Migration in Mexico


“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” – Carl Sagan

The great monarch butterfly migration is no small undertaking for these delicate, brightly winged creatures. The journey they are required to take every year is nothing short of a complex, natural phenomena. They fly fifty miles a day for two to three months for a total of nearly 3,000 miles.

There are four stages to the life of a butterfly, the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. Three generations will complete this cycle before the fourth generation endures the long journey of migration for the winter. The first three generations go through all four stages but only bear the wings of a beautiful monarch for two to six weeks. The fourth generation is different. They are the ones that are born in the late months of September and October. They will live the life of a butterfly for six to eight months. With their extended lifespan comes a great expectation to ensure the future of their species. They are the ones that will have to make the journey south and back in a safe and timely manner. They are not only seeking warmer climates but very specific locations that are programmed deep within them. It’s unclear how they know, but they juar know exactly where to go.

The trouble is, many of these locations are in danger. Without knowing any better, the monarchs follow an inner GPS seeking certain trees in exact places. Humans, as we are known to do, have rearranged the landscape for these unsuspecting beauties with our roads and our houses making it more difficult than ever for them to locate their final destinations. These places are of utmost importance to the completion of a monarch’s life cycle and thus to their entire existence as a species.

The monarchs hang out in Mexico from November to March just a couple hours west of Mexico City. With a small amount of effort the resting place of these phenomenal insects can be easily visited and there is no shortage of fascinated visitors. For many Mexicans, experiencing the stunning sight of the monarchs is much more than just beauty in nature to be appreciated. The monarchs carry an important, spiritual representation. The local people have long believed the monarchs are the returning spirits of their deceased relatives, mysteriously arriving at the same time each year, coinciding with the Day of the Dead, which takes place the first days of November.

Cerro Pelon is one of three spots where the butterflies can be seen and the depth of their mystery pondered. Cerro Pelon includes the bonus of a short but steep hike traversed by foot or horseback through pretty surroundings.

Gaining closer to the concentration of congregating butterflies, one starts to notice the casualties along the way. Even dead they look beautiful with the glow of their orange span, outlined in opaque black and splayed against the green forest floor. To see them by the hundreds, perfect and still brings an incredible sadness; to think about the energy and determination of these small bodies, the distance traveled, circumstances survived, only to finally arrive and die in vain at the finish line.

If you can pull your gaze from the ground to look up at the trees, the bulky limbs suddenly take shape and the detail of thousands of folded wings clasped together start to emerge. Thin, delicate, wire-like legs cling to branches and the backs of each other. The sight of the sheer number of them induces a deep gasp, a moment of powerful awe. How ever are they holding themselves up?

And just as you think surely the weight of them all will bring them and the trees tumbling down, a ray of sunlight strikes their backs. As if they’ve been gently tapped with an invisible magical wand, one by one they pluck themselves with perfect ease and flutter like glitter, flashing color, illuminated by the light, into the crisp air. It’s enough to bring you to your feet. It’s inspiring.

It requires a bit of patience and prayer to the weather gods to see these stunning flyers take to the air. The time spent sitting, waiting, worn from the climb, elated from the majesty undoubtedly makes space for thoughts to percolate around our own personal transformations and cycles. Their stunning beauty leaves you mezmerized, gazing and contemplating for hours.