As your family’s winter vacation escape is being planned, let us suggest a destination that we think is quite special especially if you love the wonders of nature. A one day drive to the California beach town of Pismo Beach will bring you to one of nature’s most unique animal winter migrations - the annual overwintering gathering of thousands of monarch butterflies.
Monarch butterflies are some of the most beautiful and unique of nature’s creatures and the only species of butterflies known to migrate. These vibrant black and orange tropical butterflies travel thousands of miles to escape the freezing temperatures so common across Canada and a good portion of the United States.
Many folks know about the gathering of monarch butterflies in the central mountains of Mexico, but fewer seem to know that they can experience this same butterfly gathering much closer to home by simply visiting this beautiful central coastal California city.
Pismo Beach is a classic beach town located half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco along the Pacific Coastal and 101 Highways. Tourists seeking the surf, sun and fun are the common summer visitors.
But from late October until late February monarch butterflies gather in a small grove of eucalyptus and Monterey Spruce trees at the southern end of town and literally hang-out on the tree branches enjoying the weather and breezes of the Pacific Ocean. Last year’s count shows some 34,000 butterflies were over-wintering in these trees. During the winter of 1990-91 that number was 230,000 beautiful butterflies.
The home range of the monarch butterflies that come to Pismo Beach is those lands west of the Rocky Mountains extending into southern Canada. Their close cousins who range east of the Rocky Mountains are the monarch butterflies who make the longer journey to the central mountains of Mexico.
Some of the monarchs found at Pismo Beach will have traveled over 2000 miles, covering about 100 miles each day. They have been seen flying toward the Pacific Ocean at an elevations up to 10,000 feet, slowly making their way to a climate that is not cold enough to kill them nor warm enough to waste their precious, stored energy.
Once they arrive at the Pismo Beach Butterfly Grove, they arrange themselves into dense clusters, wings hanging down over the butterfly below them like the shingles on a roof. This arrangement provides shelter from rain and wind and provides warmth for the entire group.
Since the life span of the monarchs of Pismo Beach is only six months, the butterflies there this winter will leave their ocean retreat in March never to return again. But their descendants will continue this thousand-year-old cycle and return to their Pismo Beach winter tree grove again in October 2016. How this new generation of monarch butterflies know how to return to Pismo Beach each year is an unknown mystery of science.
The Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove is closely monitored to keep the thousands of butterflies safe. But the grove is easily accessible and open each day of the week. Trained docents provide free informational walks/talks at 10 am and 2pm daily weather permitting. Be sure to check out the following website - www.monarchbutterfly.org/
Other Nearby Attractions:
1. Avilia Valley Barn is 2 miles north of Pismo Beach and is a fabulous family farm with a petting zoo with a wide variety of fresh fruits/vegetables and gifts - http://www.avilavalleybarn.com/
2. Just 26 miles north of Pismo Beach is the community of Morro Bay whose Natural History Museum has a fabulous program about monarch butterflies and the most extensive collection of shells from around the world in the best shell shop that we have ever visited - http://ccspa.info/morrobay/ and http://www.theshellshop.net/
3. San Simeon is just 55 miles north of Pismo Beach and home to both the Hearst Castle and 17,000 incredible elephant seals. From mid-December thru mid-January hundreds of female elephant seals give birth to their pups. Another amazing sight of the natural world - http://hearstcastle.org/ and http://www.elephantseal.org/
|Monarchs of Pismo Beach|
|The beach of Pismo Beach|
|One of those California sunsets|
|A male elephant seal|
|A female elephant seal|
|A young beachmaster calls out his claim|