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News from Mexico: Trip Report from Monarchs Across Georgia

February 3, 2010
We arrived in Morelia (the capital of Michoacán), on the evening of Wednesday, February 3rd. We had come to prepare for our upcoming “Monarchs in Mexico” trips scheduled for February 6-13 and 13-20. Just about everyone we encountered in Morelia was talking about the rain and foul weather they had been experiencing! In nine years of previous travels to Michoacán during the dry season, we had never before encountered rain. However, we were happy to be in Mexico and had come prepared with our raingear. Though it rained intermittently the next day (Thursday, February 4), we went about our day: visiting a local school, collecting butterfly posters from the Tourism office, and purchasing needed supplies for the trips. That evening we were astounded to see video of the flooding in Angangeo, Tuxpan, and Mexico City on the local TV news. We were also greatly saddened to learn that three children had been killed in Angangeo.

Friday, February 5
The following day (Friday, February 5) was clear and sunny. There were many more people in the streets compared to the previous day. This day, all people talked about was how glad they were to see the sun, to leave their houses, and even to be able to dry clothes on their clotheslines! However, this more cheerful mood quickly faded as we learned of the landslides occurring in the eastern part of the state. By the end of the day the magnitude of the disaster was becoming apparent. The next morning, we made numerous phone calls to our friends and contacts in Angangeo but were unable to reach anyone there. When our group of eight educators from Georgia and one videographer from Canada arrived that evening, we shared the terrible news and resulting changes to the trip itinerary with them.
We spent the next few days in Morelia and towns located to the west (Santa Clara del Cobre, Pátzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, and Capula).

February 10: A Visit to the Chincua Sanctuary
On Wednesday, February 10, we were able to travel northeast though Tlalpujahua to reach the Sierra Chincua Butterfly Sanctuary located north of Angangeo. As we made our way along the trails to colony we learned that some of the caballeros (horsemen) lived near Angangeo. Some told us their homes had been washed away during the storms, but they were grateful because all their families were safe. It was clear, sunny, and breezy when we approached the butterfly colony just after 1:30 in the afternoon. The butterflies were clustered in the trees with their orange wings opened towards the sun. We also observed some butterflies flying and basking in sunny areas on the ground and even spotted two mating pairs. Quite often butterflies would alight on the heads and bodies of people there.

Our guide, Arnulfo Gonsales Moreno, explained Sierra Chincua had been closed from Tuesday, February 2 until Sunday, February 7. The sanctuary had reopened on Monday, February 8. He told us there had been “puro sol” (pure sun) since Sunday. One of the local tienda owners told us the area where the butterflies are located is called “La Joyita,” which means “the little jewel.” He drew a picture to show us this area is a valley and explained the butterflies had moved into this area when the storms, rain, wind, and ice had come. He said the butterflies were more protected from weather here because there was no ice in this area.

Arnulfo estimated that about 100 trees were covered by monarchs. He said they had also roosted in this same area, located on the west facing side of the mountain, last year. We noticed the monarchs were mostly hanging in clusters on oyamel trees, though several were also positioned in the lower shrubs at the edge of the colony and appeared to be taking advantage the sunshine there. The temperature in the shade was 51 degrees Fahrenheit, but in the sun, our thermometer registered 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity levels in the shade fluctuated between 53% and 58%. Humidity registered about 30% in the sun. Our location was N 19° 40.158’ and W 100° 17.772’.
The elevation was 10, 413 feet.

After leaving Sierra Chincua, we travelled south to the town of Jungapeo. The trip took about 4 hours because so many roads in the area were still closed. We traveled through Tuxpan and were able to cross the bridge over the Tuxpan river that had flooded just days before. The main road was covered in dust from the dried mud. We saw several people wearing dust masks. We also saw mud deposits on the side streets and one car still completely covered in mud.

Thursday, February 11: Cerro Pelon Sanctuary and School Visit
On Thursday, February 11, we travelled though Zitácuaro to the small village of Macheros (located at an elevation of 7,972 feet) in order to visit the Cerro Pelon Butterfly Sanctuary. Before mounting horses to travel to the colony we stopped at the school to visit with students and deliver school supplies collected by our trip participants as well as books donated through our Mexico Book Project. The teachers in our group had many questions for the Mexican students. The students, though shy at first, were also curious about what life was like for school children in
the United States. We ended our visit by taking a group photo and recording a video message of the Mexican students, no longer so reserved, enthusiastically shouting “¡Buenos días!” to students in the U.S.

Arroyo, our friend in Macheros, accompanied our group up the mountain to see the butterfly colony. It was a cool overcast day. When we arrived at the colony about 3 pm, we witnessed heavy clusters of monarchs hanging in the trees of this deep forest. Monarchs were also densely packed on the trunks of the oyamel and broadleaf trees. It was impossible to see how many trees were covered with butterflies. We observed some butterflies in flight and many more shivering butterflies as the temperature was only 49.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Our group was amazing by the soft sound of shivering and fluttering. Arroyo told us in January four separate groups of monarchs had joined together to form the single colony we were seeing today. The name of the area where the monarchs were clustered is known as “El Salto.” When we looked up this word in our Spanish dictionary, we discovered it was a noun that meant a leap, bound, or jump or even a leaping-place or ground from which leaps could be taken. This area is located on the west facing side of the mountain and is protected by ridges. The elevation was 9,304 feet. Our GPS coordinates were N 19° 22.754’ and W 100° 16.085’.

Before leaving Mexico, members of our group wanted to say “¡Hola!” (Hello!) to their students and co-workers at Austell Intermediate School, Druid Hills High School, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Stone Mountain Memorial Association, and Trinity School.

Susan Myers and Kim Baily