Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove

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  1. Photo by Animals Time.com

    Where do monarch butterflies go when winter rolls around? For those of you who didn’t bother to read the title of this article, the fabulous bugs grab their little surfboards and head for Pismo Beach.

    Monarchs are one of the few species of butterflies that can live up to—and maybe longer than—eight months, as where most Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) live for only a few weeks, or even a matter of days. Once they hatch from their pupas, several species instantly go about mating and laying their eggs because their tiny insect minds know that they have but days to live; and let’s face it, if you only had a few days to live, wouldn’t mating be very high on your bucket list?

    These beautiful, papery creatures fly all the way to Southern California from virtually all points west of the Rocky Mountains; some even make the arduous trek south from Canada. Why? Have you ever spent a winter outdoors in Canada? While I’m very fond of our neighbors to the Great White North, I’d rather be dragged naked across acres of sandpaper by a nitrogen-fueled funny car than spend a winter in Canada unprotected from the elements. It’s a foregone conclusion that monarch butterflies feel a similar repugnance to freezing to death.


    Photo by Gayot.com

    Perhaps they got the idea from watching how people all over the country flock to Southern California in the wintertime. Maybe they decided on Pismo for their gathering place because Disneyland and Magic Mountain are too crowded and Venice Beach and Hollywood are just too weird for them. Regardless of their reasons, these wonders of nature gather in numbers ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 every year from late October to February and congregate in the many eucalyptus and Monetary pines clustered in and around Pismo. However, these bugs are incredibly selective. They don’t spread out in and around the city of Grover Beach (which is where Pismo is located, just to keep you as confused as humanly possible), but gather in tight groups in a very small area that is, understandably, a protected refuge for the butterflies (maybe that’s why they go there, which makes me wonder how smart the little critters can be considering that their brains are about the size of pinheads).

    To get to Pismo to partake of this wonder of nature, fly, sail, take a train or bus, balloon or thumb a ride on a submarine to Southern California, ask someone where Pismo Beach is, get off of Hwy 101 north of Grover Beach and take Hwy 1 south (most of us call it the Pacific Coast Highway, but the Pismo Beachians had to get clever and call it the Cabrillo Hwy, Pacific Blvd and even Front Street); hang a right on Grand Ave (which is neither grand nor an avenue if you ask me) and head toward the local edition of Cal Poly. With any luck, the butterfly reserve will be on your left, but if you get lost, don’t blame me; I got these directions from a website even more befuddling than this one, and when I went to the monarch reserve, I kind of found it by accident and have no idea how I wound up in the right place. If that doesn’t work, follow the signs or for once in your life stop and ask for directions. Parking is free (or was the last time I was there; with California’s economy as it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have parking rates comparable to Disneyland these days, which isn’t cheap), but limited. Try to get there early, as this is the most often visited butterfly reserve in the United States (by humans as well as monarchs, and I don’t mean kings and queens).

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