Courier March Courier - Page 21

As I headed to Mexico at the end of January to join the Monarch Butterflies of Mexico tour—offered by longtime NTA member A Closer Look Tours—one thought kept going through my head: Don’t step on the butterflies, don’t step on the butterflies. About 15 years ago, my wife and I were in Mackinac Island, Michigan, for a long weekend, and one of our stops was at the Original Butterfly House and Insect World. Before we entered the enclosure to see the colorful butterflies, we’d been warned to pay close attention to where they were at all times. I was fine for the first 15 minutes. Then, after taking a couple of photos, I let my guard down. When I backed up, I heard a delicate, disturbing crunch. “You didn’t!” my wife said. After lifting my shoe, I replied, “Uh, oh.” Monarchs don't like Mondays, either A Closer Look’s itinerary started and ended in Mexico City and featured three days in the high-altitude village of Tlalpujahua, Michoacán, near the monarch sanctuaries. Our group of seven included another travel publisher and her photographer from Michigan, and four people from Phoenix—a father-son duo and a well-traveled couple. We were in the very capable hands of tour manager Sergio Garcia (not the golfer) and he was everything you’d want in a guide. It was an excellent and adventurous band, and I felt very fortunate to be traveling with such a hearty and humor- ous group. We enjoyed some wonderful hospitality and also got to experience the warmth and generosity of the Mexican people throughout our journey. Unsurprising considering the tour’s theme, the time we spent on the trail of the monarchs was the most memorable for me. I definitely consider myself a nature-lover, although admittedly I’m more of a hiking and sunsets guy. But this experience seemed like a chance to do and see something totally unique, and that is right in my traveling wheelhouse. The monarchs journey from all across Canada to one very specific section of Mexico each winter, a fact that begged a lot of questions. There are reasons why the beautifu l and delicate creatures choose the mountainous Michoacán terrain as their November-to-March home, but I’ll spare you the fairly involved scientific explanation. The good news is that they do, and if you journey there to see them, it is spectacular (more in a minute). Our touring included excursions on Monday and Tuesday Pat Henderson makes a new friend at the El Rosario Sanctuary. to two different sanctuaries. Both visits included a horseback ride from the welcome center up the mountain, followed by hiking on up to roughly 12,000 feet, to the specific areas where the monarchs hang out. The first day was windy and about 43 degrees, and the mon- archs reacted by huddling together to keep warm. While we could see large clumps of them high up in the trees, very few flew close to where we were standing. It was cool to see them from a distance, but not quite the experience we’d hoped for. That night, I sent an email to a few of my friends and family that read, in part, “Apparently the monarchs don’t like windy, overcast days. Hoping conditions aren’t that way tomorrow, which is our only other chance to see them, but guess what’s in the forecast?” The good news: Tuesday brought sunny skies and temps in the early 50s, which brought the monarchs out en masse. The memory of turning the final corner and being welcomed by monarchs soaring freely through the trees as we arrived at our viewing spot is one that will stick with me forever. It still is hard to put into words what we experienced in our 30 to 40 minutes there, but it was awe-inspiring. I was torn between snapping photo after photo of the majestic monarchs (occupational hazard) and just sitting and soaking in the moment. I balanced both, though the latter offered such a peaceful feeling and served as a great reminder of the one-of-a-kind experiences travel offers. Most important, no butterflies were harmed/stepped on— that I know of—during our visit. NTAonline.com 19