Normally the words, desert and rainforest do not go together, but they meld very well in America’s largest butterfly atrium. Butterfly Wonderland is located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community, in the Greater Phoenix area. The Native Americans believe the butterfly is a symbol of change, joy and color and a miracle of transformation, rebirth and regeneration.
On a lovely sunny day in March we visited this wonderland in the desert. There is an order to the visit. First view the movie The Flight of the Butterfly, a story of three generations of female monarchs, who journey through many states to eat, breed and survive. It is in 3D and I reached out to touch the trees, grasses and butterflies, on more than one occasion. It is truly a miracle of nature.
The next step on the journey is a visit to what I thought of as the birthing room, but what they call the Butterfly Emergence Gallery. It is where the Pupas hang on branches while the amazing transformation from a worm into a butterfly takes place. We watched as a couple slowly worked their way out of the cocoon. As I watched I remembered that as a child I collected silkworms, put them in a box with mulberry leaves, which they devoured and then spun the shell becoming pupas, and then moths.
There is a feeling of magic when you finally enter the glass-enclosed rainforest atrium. It is lush with foliage, waterfalls and a koi pond. It is probably the only place for miles that there is any humidity. The music is the almost soundless fluttering of the butterflies, the people’s murmurs of wonder, the running water and all around us hundreds of eye-popping, colored butterflies, landing on our backs, fronts, heads and hands. There are the usual signs, like don’t touch the butterflies, but also the ones that say, watch where you step, because they sit in the ground.
Butterfly Wonderland gets most of the pupas from Africa, Asia and South and Central America. I asked a volunteer if they also breed and release them, given the destruction of the butterfly population from pesticides. He said no. As nothing in the Conservatory, like the trees, bushes, flowers and butterflies are natural to the area, that when they die, they have to be disposed of like toxic waste.
We spent time watching the butterflies and the kid’s faces when a butterfly landed on their hands or clothes. They were all entranced and some were as colorful as the butterflies themselves.
There were butterfly wreaths.
And some that looked like mosaics
Our favorite, the Blue Morpho which flies in a zigzag to confuse its predators.
Another blue beauty
Apparently they like bowls of fruit for breakfast
The lovely Monarch
Like a painting
Where is the butterfly and where is the leaf?
Waiting to leave
One cannot just wander in and out. When enough people gather a staff person opens a door that leads into a room, where we check for butterflies on our person, or in our belongings. It is almost like a level of security. No one leaves with a butterfly in their possession.
Oops John nearly did!
They then open another door and we are free to leave and visit the store or café. It is a delightful tourist attraction to visit, especially on a sunny day in March.