Update Letter from Ellen Sharp at Cerro Pelón Sanctuary
The Long Goodbye
Journey North

Monarch Butterflies at Cerro Pelon winter sanctuary in Mexico

Some of the hundreds of monarchs we saw puddling in the mud on Tuesday, March 14th.
by Ellen Sharp


Dear Butterfly Lovers,

A few months back George called from London to say that he wanted to come in late March to see the monarchs departing. He imagined them flowing down through the valley like a river of orange. I urged him to visit us earlier and he’s set to arrive on March 16th. Now I really hope that there are still monarchs to see on that date.

In truth, the monarchs neither arrive nor depart in a river. Usually when they are doing serious travel, they fly too high for us to see them well; they are not much more than dark specks darting across the sky. When they do flow close to the ground, it’s usually when they’re going from their colony to a water source. All season there was an almost daily spectacle on the road that connects Valle de Bravo to the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. You have to keep your car in first gear to keep from crushing the stream of monarchs going both ways, crossing the road to the water below and returning to their roosts above.

This season’s departure has offered no such spectacle. Instead, the colony just looks subtly diminished every day. And maybe this gradual leave-taking is a good thing, because spreading themselves out limits the damage that one bad weather event could do to the monarchs. “See, they’re smart,” my husband Joel likes to say.

The anniversary of last year’s devastating ice storm came and went. We were holding our breaths, because once again the weather turned moody in early March and dark clouds roiled across the sky. Rain drops splattered our mats during a slow deep stretch session of our first annual butterfly yoga retreat. But it wasn’t enough precipitation to drive us indoors, and afterward the sun set deep red between the clouds while we meditated on the horizon with our eyes open.

On Sunday, March 12, Joel and his siblings Vicente and Ana took the yogis up the mountain to see the butterflies. Forest Ranger Patricio said he thought that half had already left by that date, but the visitors were still pleased with what they saw.

The next day, the skies returned to that deep clear blue that only happens at high altitude, and butterfly guide Ana Moreno went back to the colony with a good-natured Dutch couple. According to Ana, there was noticeably less colony. While the day before there were still dark clusters dangling from the trees, overnight these clumps had dispersed into a lighter dusting of orange.

On Tuesday, March 14, Joel and I headed up Cerro Pelon again. The monarchs poured down the mountain and into sight well before we reached the meadow you have to cross to reach this season’s final resting place. They were searching for nectar, fueling up for their journey. In El Aserradero they flitted about the stalks of yellow jara blossoms (Barkleyanthus salicifolius) that adorn the meadow.

In the trees above this clearing there were still plenty of monarchs to see and hear. They flowed in and out of their roosts as if practicing for their imminent departure. The Bavarian radio journalist who accompanied us held his microphone out to capture the sound of their wings, which he compared to the rustling of leaves in the wind. Then we headed downhill to a stream where we saw hundreds of them puddling in the mud. Throughout the day we saw monarchs mating, traveling in twosomes through the air and sometimes falling to the ground at our feet in a noisy scuffle.

It now seems that it is just a matter of days that the monarchs will still be with us. Dear George, please get here as soon as you can!


Dr. Ellen Sharp
Co-owner of JM Butterfly B&B
Co-founder the environmental non-profit Butterflies & Their People
with Joel and Patricio Moreno Rojas.

Both located at the entry of the Cerro Pelón Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.

Map: Location of monarch butterfly overwintering region in Mexico
Sanctuary Locations
Cerro Pelon Sanctuary
Monarch Butterflies at Cerro Pelon winter sanctuary in Mexico
Flitting about the stalks of yellow jara blossoms (Barkleyanthus salicifolius), fueling up for their journey.
Monarch Butterflies at Cerro Pelon winter sanctuary in Mexico

My husband, Joel Moreno Rojas, riding across the El Aserradero Meadow.


Monarch Butterflies at Cerro Pelon winter sanctuary in Mexico

Sunset behind the tropical milkweed in our yard.


Copyright 1997-2018 Journey North (journeynorth.org). All Rights Reserved. Search