Several American companies run tours to the monarchs each February and March as the winter colonies begin to warm and increase in activity. Look for trips accompanied by a monarch expert, especially Lincoln Brower, Bill Calvert, Chip Taylor, Mia Monroe, Julian Donahue and Robert Michael Pyle.
Victor Emmanuel Nature Tours, P.O. Box 33008, Austin, Texas 78764; (800) 328-VENT; fax, (512) 328-2919.
Joe Van Os Photo Safaris; P.O Box 655, Vashon Island, WA 98070 (206) 463-5383.
The Monarch Program, P.O. Box 178671, San Diego, Calif. 92177; (760) 944-7113; fax, (760) 436-1159.
Mexico-based tours operate from Morelia, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Independent travelers can reach Ocampo or Angangueo (the towns closest to the sanctuaries) by public bus from the cities of Morelia, Zitacuaro or Toluca. From there you can bus to El Rosario, entering the reserve with a guide from the ejido. A local driver and guide in Ocampo or Angangueo will take you to El Rosario or Chincua and wait for you during your visit for about $25. Angangueo offers the best lodging close to the sanctuaries, including Hotel Don Bruno and Hotel La Margarita.
Two organizations are working to protect the monarch sites by looking for solutions that allow people and butterflies to coexist with the forest.
Dr. Karen Oberhauser, president of The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, 2078 Skillman Ave., Roseville, Minn. 55113;
The Michoacan Reforestation Fund/La Cruz Habitat Protection Project plants trees for the ejiditarios to harvest, saving the butterfly groves; 260 Mather St., Oakland, Calif. 94611; (510) 658-6758; www.michoacanmonarchs.com.
Two terrific Web sites include information about monarch conservation and education:www.monarchwatch.org, andwww.learner.org/jnorth (Journey North, which tracks the northward migration each year).
Most western monarchs migrate to the California coast from just north of San Francisco to just south of San Diego, wintering mostly in eucalyptus trees, in smaller numbers than the Mexican colonies. One-fourth of these sites have been or are being lost to development. Santa Barbara County has the most sites; other large congregations of gregarious butterflies remain at Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach and at the well-interpreted monarch preserve at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz; (831) 423-4609.