“That second day, it snowed,” Trail remembered. Brugger and Trail found five colonies on that trip and raced to Tuxpan to relay the news to Urquhart by phone. Urquhart recalled the phone call in the story he wrote for National Geographic. “On the evening of January 9, 1975, Ken telephoned us from Mexico. ‘We have located the colony!’ he said, unable to control the excitement in his voice. ‘We have found them–millions of Monarchs–in evergreens beside a mountain clearing.’ ”
An entire year later, Fred and Nora Urquhart, and photographer Bianca Lavies joined Trail and Brugger in Mexico to visit the roosting sites. The fantastic photo of Trail graced the front of the magazine, her historic role in the discovery reduced to cover girl and a vague reference by Urquhart to a “bright and delightful Mexican, ‘Cathy.’” The explosive story and dramatic photos inside rocked the world of lepidoptery.
Trail and Brugger returned to Michoacan in 1978 together for the last time. “I was almost sad that we had found them because everything was in such disarray in the first few years,” said Trail recently. “And there was a lot of controversy,” she said, referring to myriad disagreements about scientific credit-taking that followed. The drama and disagreement explains why Trail dropped out of the Monarch story for decades. Halpern’s book, Four Wings and a Prayer, chronicles the saga.
Trail and Brugger, married for 18 years, separated in 1991. Her desire to earn a formal education at Austin Community College seemed to unnerve her older husband and caused problems. They eventually divorced, and in 1995 Trail married a fellow social worker, George Trail. In 1996 Trail graduated with a degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin. Brugger died at age 80 and his grown son by Trail, whose privacy she chooses to protect, also lives in Austin.
Trail returned to the roosting sanctuaries in February for the first time in 34 years. Canadian filmmakers invited her as their guest in the course of filming the documentary, Flight of the Butterflies.
“During the trip from Mexico City Airport to El Rosario, federal and state police patrolled the roads and the sanctuary,” she said, describing “mixed feelings of safety and dread, which surprised me as a native Mexican in Michoacan.” Trail missed an opportunity to meet President Felipe Calderon who took part in the IMAX film, since her return to Austin was scheduled prior to his arrival at the Monarch sanctuaries.