Hiking to see the Monarchs

Yesterday was magical and inspiring in so many ways. 

We went to the Sierra Chincua Monarch Preserve, where we saw the monarchs in full flight getting ready to migrate back north.  
I hope to still witness them again on Monday. The weekend is warm, so they may all be off on their way, or hopefully there are so many that it will take days and days for them all to leave their ancestral winter sanctuary. Or they might be tuckered out from mating, and need a bit of a respite before taking off. We saw many on the ground going at it. And alas some that did not make it. Had to be careful where we walked, to not step on those who were mating on the trails, and not just to bypass the horse poop.
We started off at around 9 am and had to drive an hour or so to get to the base camp. The grounds keeper Moritzio and Ian in the front as men should be (HA) really it was to fit Ian’s long legs, three women in the back seat, which included Alisa, Moritzio’s wife in the middle, and their two children in the trunk area (not in the trunk since it was an SUV, just the open back area of the vehicle. Once at the entrance we as Gringos had to pay an entrance fee of around $4, but did not have to pay for a guide since Moritzio could serve as our volunteer guide. Then we had to pass los Caballeros hawking for us to ride the horses up for a faster trip. We already planned to make the walk up, which was about 90 minutes both ways. I was afraid I would not be able to handle the hike with my camera, tripod, snacks and water on my back, but the adrenaline rush from seeing the butterflies kept me going, though maybe a bit slow to focus on video taping and catching my breath from time to time. I was amazed how I was not even hungry or thirsty nor needed to go to the bathroom the whole time. Three things that often bog me down. I think chewing gum along the way helped, by keeping my mouth and throat hydrated instead of drinking the water, it also saved me from breathing in all the dust kicked up by the horses, and the chewing kept me focused on keeping a rhythm while walking.
As we started up the trail we slowly began to see butterflies flitting about amongst the flowers and trees. Their numbers started off small, but as we made our way up the mountain more and more kept coming out, spurred on by the warming sunlight filling the late morning sky and open areas of the trails. Along the way was surprised to see these humongous pink thistles, reminding me of Scotland. The butterflies were feeding on the wild flowers everywhere, tropical milkweed (which I did not recognize at first), lupins, pineapple sage (salvia) and goldenrod as well as drinking at a passing stream. They were just swarming around the water when we first arrived, but their numbers were less on the way back. I brought only my zoom lens, but really I would have been fine with my regular 25 to 75 millimeter lens. The butterflies were practically flying in our faces, they were everywhere so close and near as we went higher and higher. But then they made us stop and start to turn around. We were caught in a log jam. All standing and wondering how and when to move and where. School groups, families with young children and their elders, one sporting a fantastical Monarch cape. The guides where roping off the trails, herding us to start back down. Why? Why? Just when I could look up and see a massive cloud of orange descending from the faraway tops of the fir trees. I wanted so much to set up my tripod and capture this mass of butterflies swarming way above, but we were stuck on a narrow trail, like the images of the climbers waiting to ascend Mt. Everest during the busy season. We could not move. Then as we looked down there were a group of men making their way up the trail, quickly climbing past us. Three were helping to carry a man who had no legs, while another carried his wheel chair and the rest carried along a range of recording equipment, mics and cameras and tripods and steady cams. One of the guys told us they were there to survey the migration. Maybe with drones, but maybe not. Did not get the full story, I was too out of sorts with what was going on. I wished I had thought to turn on my microphone to record him. If I make it back on Monday, hopefully with Alicia, she can help me record some of the guides with their stories and information. I was so present for viewing and capturing the monarchs that I lost track of the people taking care and monitoring their migration and numbers, which as we know had been going down, but maybe starting to rise again. We can only hope and plant more and more milkweed for their caterpillars to grow and transform into the succeeding generations.
All my best for you and the Monarchs,