And a Cast of Thousands

Jun 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Pacific Loggerhead Turtles
Until five years ago, the Pacific loggerhead turtles of Baja California presented a herpeto-logical enigma: Not a single nest had ever been found on North American sand. But in 1996, after two fruitless years spent scouring beaches from Guatemala to California in search of nesting evidence, researcher Wallace J. Nichols had a last-ditch theory. Knowing that turtles found off Japan are genetically similar to those off Baja and that an adult loggerhead will always return to its birthplace to lay eggs, he glued a $1,500 satellite beacon to the back of an adult Mexican turtle named Adelita and released her. "It was kind of in the back of my mind, 'Hey, wouldn't it be neat if she swam to Japan?'" says Nichols. "But I didn't think she'd make a beeline for it." Sure enough, paddling at speeds of up to a foot per second, Adelita reached the Nipponese coastline 12 months later, proving that loggerheads make an incredible 7,000-mile transpacific migration.

See for Yourself: Spend a week working with experts at the sea-turtle research station in Bahía de los Angeles, on the Gulf of California 350 miles south of San Diego—trips with One World Workforce start at $750 per person (800-451-9564; Or watch them on the other side of the Pacific: The Sea Turtle Association of Japan (011-81-72-864-0335; can set up tours of the nesting beaches on Yaku Shima island, 60 miles south of Kyushu. For more on sea-turtle protection, contact Wildcoast (831-426-0337;
Monarch Butterflies
They may look fragile, with rice-paper-thin wings and bodies no larger than Bic pen caps, but each summer, millions of North American monarch butterflies transform themselves into Ironman-worthy endurance athletes for one of the most grueling migrations in the insect world. In late August, legions of young monarchs living east of the Rocky Mountains hit the skies for a 60-day, 2,000-mile trip south. They cruise over America's Bible Belt, covering up to 30 miles a day and collecting stores of fat that rival those of Japanese sumo champions as they feed on marigolds, foxgloves, and buttercups. By December, more than 300 million butterflies have landed in the oyamel pines in the mountains of south-central Mexico. They cling to the evergreens in dense clusters like bright orange-and-black shingles, their collective body mass (an astonishing 400,000 pounds) bending and snapping the tree limbs. Sadly, not everyone appreciates the monarchs' beauty: Illegal logging operations threaten their Mexican habitat.

See for Yourself: Hike the steep trails of El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary, 100 miles west of Mexico City, near the village of Angangueo, from December through March (admission $5 per person; for more information, call the Mexican Tourism Board at 800-446-3942). Camping is not allowed in the sanctuary, but you'll find basic accommodations in Angangueo. Natural Habitat Adventures offers six-day hiking and horseback-riding trips through El Rosario and the nearby Sierra Chincua Sanctuary in January, February, and March ($1,995 per person; 800-543-8917;