Viewing the monarchs wintering in Mexico

Here's a brief report of my March trip to the monarch butterfly wintering grounds.  The link to Lake Wingra is that monarchs are a charismatic species that people are concerned about.  Any activities that help monarchs are also likely to help our watershed.

Goals for the trip were to see the butterflies, and to locate some schools nearby who want to exchange letters or art with schools in our watershed.

Monarchs wintering in the Cerro Pelon reserve.
Click on photos to enlarge.


I visited the butterfly area between March 2 and March 4, 2015.  This is a good time to visit, because the large number of tourists is tapering off (especially if you visit on a weekday), and the butterflies are becoming more active.  Weather is pleasant--around 65-70 F during the day.

The trip was inexpensive.  Airfare was only $342 round trip, Chicago to Mexico City.  From there I took a 3.25 hour bus ride to Angangueo, the town nearest the butterfly reserves.   Decent hotels ranged from $17 to $52 a night.  I  ordered a gourmet dinner, served outside under 400-year-old stone arches in Morelia, for $14 (including two margaritas).

Although there are about 8 different locations with butterflies, only three are reasonably accessible (map below).  I visited the Cerro Pelon and El Rosario reserves.  After seeing the butterflies, I went for 4 days to the wonderful colonial city of Morelia (photo below), then for 3 days to Mexico City.

Travel in the butterfly region of the state of Michoacan is as safe as visiting a popular tourist area in the US.

The Reserves

The Mexican federal government has established a large protected reserve that includes all the wintering areas.  That is surrounded by a buffer zone where some economic activities are allowed.

In practice, the reserve does not completely protect the butterflies, with trees being cut here and there, sometimes right next to where the butterflies are wintering. There is poor coordination between branches of the government.  For example, the reserve is federal, but the rangers are paid by the state park system.  I was told the one thing that would most increase protection for butterflies would be more rangers, with longer hours.  They work only 9-5, while most tree-cutting takes place at night.

The butterflies cluster densely in only about 6 fur trees in each of the reserves I visited--at about 9,500 feet.  They are truly an amazing sight--one of the great wildlife spectacles of the world.  It's very peaceful--as if a field full of flowers took wing before you.  When something disturbs them and they burst into the air, in the near-silence you can hear something like the hiss of a light rain--thousands of butterfly wings brushing against twigs or other monarchs.  During the day, they fly out to nectar among the many flowers surrounding their roosting trees.

Exchanges between schools in Madison and Mexico

Estela Romero, right, with teacher.
Exchanges will generate publicity and provide and added dimension to FoLW's work with schools.  In the town of Angangueo, I was lucky to run into Estella Romero who speaks excellent English, works in the mayor's office, and has contact with schools (as a former teacher).

She took me to one elementary school, where the two teachers were enthusiastic about an exchange.

Next, we visited an environmental center, which could provide support to the teachers.

 A few days later, I visited a second elementary school in the village of Macheros.  The two teachers were enthusiastic about exchange.

The children produced letters and drawings for me to take home.

Back in Madison, several teachers have expressed an interest in the exchanges.  Problems with translation of the letters I received should be minimal, because Thoreau, Midvale, and Lincoln schools are all bilingual.

We have yet to work out details of the exchange.  Internet and Skype won't work as an exchange medium, because only one of the two schools has internet, which is extremely slow.  Only one of the two schools has enough computers for the students (above photo).  The other school has just one computer.

Letters are always popular.  Artwork has an added advantage, because it can be displayed--and the display creates self-explanatory, enduring publicity.  Since the majority of Mexican children have access to cell phones, photos could also be exchanged (via mailed SDHC memory cards).

What messages should be promoted with the exchange, besides friendship?  No doubt, the monarch life cycle, and what children are doing to help them.

Watershed issues are another potential subject. The town is situated in a mountain valley with steep sides.
 In 2010, Angangueo suffered a devastating flood, killing at least thirty and making 1,000 homeless.

The flood was a consequence of deforestation and building on the steep hillsides--things which also threaten the monarchs. Plans were made to build and relocate people to a safer town, but residents objected and the plans were canceled.  Photo source. 

The lake Wingra Watershed also has flooding several times a year.  While our floods aren't as devastating, they do stimulate huge public investments in stormwater projects.  Watershed restoration could be a less expensive way to reduce flooding, while providing additional benefits such as wildlife habitat.

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Map of three accessible butterfly areas
The map is 150 miles wide. Three butterfly areas are shown with X: Sierra Chincua, El Rosario, & Cerro Pelon, top to bottom.  Cities/towns are show with circles: Angangueo, Zitacuaro, & Macheros from top down.  Dark green areas are forested mountains.

Below, I've listed contact information...

Facilitator/translator in Angangueo
Works in Mayor's Office, private English instructor, interested in Monarchs.
Her house was damaged by the big flood in 1010.
Ma. Estela Romero Vazquez
Calle Nacional #9
Centro, Angangueo, Mexico

A sustainable and traditional agriculture center in Angangueo; a resource for schools.
Fundraiser: M. en C. Guadalupe del Rio Pesado (She lives in Mexico City)
Caravaggio No. 24, Col. Nonoalco Mixcoac;
Deleg. Benito Juarez; Mexico D.F.  C.P. 03700, Mexico
(55) 55-63-7100
alterna5@prodigy.net.mx;  www.alternare.org
The guides I photographed were Marcelina Cruz Rivera and Xochitl Velazquez Alcantar.

Debbie Jackson, Conservation Specialist, Educational programs for Ages 9-94
debbieamj@monarchwatch.org  248-459-1399

Elementary School in Macheros
Close to the Cerro Pelon reserve.
Teacher who lives in Zitacuaro and receives mail there:
Ma. Teresa Garcia Bautista  (grades 4-6)
2a. Cda. de Degollado Ote. No 27
Col. Heroes Ferrocarrileros
Zitacuaro Michoacan  C.P. 61508
The other teacher (who lives at the school) is Mtra. Janeth Castro Hernandez (grades 1-3).
This school has internet but it's extremely slow.  Only one computer works.

Elementary School in Angangueo
Lupita Montoya teaches the 5th grade computer class.  They have about 15 working computers but no internet.


Mexico City near Zocalo.  Inexpensive but good.  You can take the subway from the airport, and walk only 4 blocks to the hotel.
Isabel La Catolica#63, Colonia Centro, Mexico D.F. 06000
011-52 (55) 5518-1213 al 17.  hisabel@prodigy.net.mx   011 is access code, 52 is country, 55 is Mexico City area , second 55 is a coincidence.

Macheros near Cerro Pelon
Excellent, middle price range, excellent location in tiny town, provides tours to Cerro Pelon and other sanctuaries.
JM's Butterfly B&B
Macheros 51030, Donato Guerra, Mexico
726-596-3117; cell (01) 715-112-5499

Angangueo about a mile down from the main plaza:
Mid range but excellent, conveniently located in nice town.
Plaza Don Gabino Hotel
Morelos 147, Angangueo 61411, Mexico
hotelplazagabino@hotmail.com 11 52 715 156 0322

Inexpensive but excellent; about 4 blocks from downtown main square.
Hostal Allende, www.hjostelallende.com.mx
Allende 843
Morelia, Mexico

Recommended guides
Oscar Reyes 715-127-2308 or 7308, driver in Angangueo, speaks English
Maria del Carmen Perfecto Garcia (does not speak English but very good, has good stories)

Other resources (recommended by Debbie)
Chip's blogs
Milkweeds, monarchs, and more.  By Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser & Michael Quinn.
School exchanges--"The symbolic monarchs are in Mexico!"

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