Monterrey, Mexico: Follow the Butterflies

Have you ever seen the sun shine through butterfly wings? Have you ever squandered this miraculous serendipity by trying to capture it on a cellphone? Fortunately I didn’t waste too much time failing, knowing I could find better quality photos online later, (see below).

Instead I stood in the sun on a perfectly dry day, an unexpected hiatus between rainy days that had been pelting and flooding Monterrey for weeks. And it was as beautiful as it was brief. Just before November a summery sun illuminated the inky orange of thousands of wings making their way across the clear blue canvas of the autumn sky. It was one of those itinerant moments that quiets your soul with gratitude even though you can’t believe it’s real. Perhaps because it’s so unreal. It’s almost impossible to describe the colors without purple prose. This is the time to use photoshop color codes or pantone words like azure and cerulean, vermilion and pyrrole orange.

So if you find yourself in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, (which alternates with Guadalajara for Mexico’s second largest city after the capital), during October, skip Oktoberfest and head for the mountains. You must see it for yourself to know the beauty isn’t hyperbole.

The annual migration of the monarch butterflies is truly extraordinary — and one of the longest insect migrations in the world. And for a few October days I didn’t realize it wasn’t leaves the wind was blowing around in a locust-like darkening but the butterflies on their more than 4,000 kilometer journey from Canada to their winter home in the oyamel trees of Michoacán, Mexico.

We went for a hike and an expert presentation, part of a festival celebrating the butterfly migration at Parque Ecológico Chipinque. Not only does the park offer outdoor movies nights there, in addition to educational events, the sprawling ecological reserve offers more adventures than Lewis Carroll. There are multiple playgrounds and picnic areas for families. There are low-incline strolls for the meanderers. And for the hikers there are challenging mazes of trails that vary in length and difficulty. To make the most of the serious hikes I’m told it’s best to arrive by 8am. This is especially true for the six-ish hours it takes to get to the summit, El Pinal, and back. You can even rent cabins there or eat at a restaurant in the middle of the forest.

Being a tree-climbing Oregon girl who grew up knee-deep in greenery the enormity of this park, its paths, trails and rolling forests was beyond the proverbial breath of fresh air I needed. The endless metropolis of Monterrey below the mountains is a city of industry, millions of people and a particulate pollution most people assume comes from the traffic that, like most large cities, exceeds the infrastructure.

Not all monarchs make it from Canada all the way to Michoacán; Cerro de la Silla in the distance; Do not feed the coatis! Even when they beg! Asclepia flowers of the opportunistic milkweed, the main melliferous food source for the butterflies ; Hiking one of the many trails at Parque Ecológico Chipinque

This ecological escape into the mountains gives you a king’s view of the urban caldera below, a kingdom as dense as it is sprawling.

It is absolutely worth the $100 peso parking fee. Make a day of it. Bring your water and your sunblock. And pack a picnic lunch.

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