God damn is the Gila National Forest beautiful. The last time I was here was in 2004. I know. I was 17. I went back earlier this year and it was as breathtaking as I remembered. The thing that strikes me most about this part of the country is the diversity of habitats. Desert-ey scrublands, lush forests, amphibian-ridden streams, heart-jumpingly steep cliffs, and more.
Look, I even used my mad wildlife PhD skills to find a bird nest. I believe these are yellow-eyed junco nestlings. They definitely thought I might have some snacks for them.
I also found some of my favorite group of flowers: the columbines. Such gorgeous, evolutionary creations--look at those nectar spurs!
Also found a fence lizard (genus Sceloporus, commonly known as "blue bellies"). He was a handsome little devil, and weirdly friendly
This hike was about 13 miles round trip (it's an out-and-in hike, not a loop). At the end of the hike out there are amazing hot springs (I'm not going to post any photos of those, just so they're a surprise). I strongly recommend wearing water shoes (there were lots of stream crossings, at least when I went) and bringing lots of water.