This morning we bade farewell to the tranquility of our stay at Hotel Morillo. At breakfast we got a suggestion via the monarch listserv, Dplex, from Bill Calvert that we divert our trip Through Cuidad del Maiz to Rio Verde in order to follow the monarchs. It was a great tip and we spent much of our day counting monarchs. Carol kept track of time and kept a tally of the monarchs that we saw. We called them out as we saw them, like kids playing a highway game. It was great fun!
We drove south on hwy 54. About 30 miles out of Saltillo, we took the road we had taken on Tuesday with the Monarch Monitoring conference, eastward over the mountain pass, past the Natural Protected Area Sierra Zapaliname and Ejido Chapultepec. We began seeing monarchs regularly once we started moving eastward. In the first 8 minutes we saw we saw 39 monarchs. From 11 to 11:15 we saw 67 monarchs as we approached the mountain pass. There were fewer monarchs on the east side of the mountain pass as we passed Ej. Chapultepek. We saw only 14 in 15 minutes. At this point I can’t really post photos of the monarchs that we saw. The excitement had more to do with the number of them that we saw in a minute. They didn’t clump together for a photop!
South of Saltillo: Bill Fry, Carol Cullar and Susan Fry
As we dropped into slightly lower elevations from 11:30-11:55, we saw 20 monarchs and began to enter the major apple production region for Mexico. Natural vegetation consisted primarily of Joshua trees. The rest was many hundreds of acres of tightly packed apple trees, many of them under shade cloth.
Joshua trees in foreground and apple trees under shade cloth
Just past that region, we turned south on highway 57 onto the Altiplano — high plains — running between two ridges of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The plains stretched out wide creating the feel of the big skies, but the entire horizon was ringed by distant mountains. There were only sporadic monarchs at that point so we stopped counting. There were numerous nectar plants with yellow flowers: coreopsis, sunflower, huizache daisy, and false broomweed, as well as numerous Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and cholla cacti. We saw most of the monarchs crossing the road toward the east, however the movement appeared to more associated with nectaring than with migration.
We passed through Matehuala and stopped briefly at the Tropic of Cancer to take photos, recording our passage through that landmark.
We resumed our count at 3:38 when we once again turned east, driving toward Cuidad del Maiz on highway 80. Three miles past the turn off to Los Anoles, we began seeing monarchs. In 6 minutes, beginning at 3:38, we saw 57 monarchs. They seemed to be settling down in the huizache trees on either side of the road and may have been being stirred up by passing traffic. Between 3:49 and 3:52 we saw 26 monarchs. At 3:53 the road took a slightly more north-south orientation. We saw four times as many monarchs as we had been seeing: For the minute beginning at 3;53 we saw 22, at 3:54 – 21, and at 3:55 -23 monarchs as we came into the village of Sto. (Santo) Domingo.
Along highway 80 we passed many small villages and brightly painted school yards. At 3:56 we drove into heavy cloud cover. The air temperature dropped and it became much darker. We saw 60 monarchs in 14 minutes and after that we saw only a very few scattered monarchs.
We have found good, but much less luxurious lodging for the night at the Hotel San Jose in the town of Cuidad del Maiz. After a dinner of chicken and goat cooked over an open fire pit in an open air restaurant we have turned in. We hope to pick up the trail of the monarchs in the morning.