The second day of the Gila River trip – now with special guests! Dale, Beverley, and Shelly live in a completely different section of New Mexico, but when I discovered that they were camping on the western side of the state (only a 630 mile drive from San Diego!) I knew I had to drive out there for the weekend.

I find them at Lake Roberts, and we head up to the end of New Mexico 15 to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, find some hot springs, and generally have a quality time of things.

I took over 1000 pictures on this day – quite a lot of things to be seen!

Shelly, Dale, and Beverley at the entrance to the cliff dwellings. The ladder is a modern touch for modern folks. The original inhabitants, of course, flew from door to door on the power of their awesomeness.

Today’s theme ingredient is: forest fire.

I believe this is a desert spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister). Dale spotted the little critter first and it took me a good several seconds to note what he was pointing at. The camouflage is dang near perfect!

The Gila Cliff Dwellings. They were built around 1280 by the Mogollon people, and were abandoned sometime in the 1300s. Due to the desert climate, they remain very well-preserved; almost exactly how they looked over 700 years ago.

Dale. No further explanation needed.

A lazy evening spent at a hot spring. I took this photo while sitting in the pool. Probably not the smartest idea ever, but hey, the photo came out!

Green tree at the Lake Roberts campground.

A close-up of some of the leaves.

Lots of fossils to be found in the rocks that the New Mexico park service used to build the campground in the 1930s.

A little green and orange plant.

I don’t think the sign is particularly old, but it does have the classic 1920s block font.

A one-lane bridge on old NM-35. Lake Roberts is actually several miles to the east of 15; off 35.

This is actually the very last 15 “reassurance marker”. Here, we enter the Gila Cliff Dwellings national monument.

Yellow rocks cut away to provide room for NM-15.

This extremely green species of tree is all over the area.

Our first glimpse of the source of the smoke. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this very soon.

The confluence of the East and Middle forks of the Gila River.

Oh, that forest fire? Well, it’s here.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings visitor center flag. Brown light courtesy of – you guessed it – forest fire.

Fisheye to rectangular conversion on this one, explaining the wacky angles at the edges.

They’re circling …

Welcome to the enchanted forest of bizarre lighting.

A small stream on the way to the cliff dwellings.

Bright light. Big tree.

The cliffs. Soon, we’ll find the dwellings.

Another extremely green tree.

Different angle on the lizard. I circled around and got this photo before it decided it had enough and took off scurrying.

The path up to the cliff dwellings involves a lot of steps.

Our first view of the dwellings.

Getting closer.

Inside one of the dwellings.

Looking out the window.

I could never quite expose this one correctly.

A very Escher-looking photo.

Getting these photos to expose correctly is very difficult, due to the huge range in light levels.

About the only cliff dwellings photo which I didn’t blow out at least one corner of!

A petroglyph. Plenty may be found at the dwellings.

More views from the cliff dwellings.

The result of forest fire brown and camera flash white.

One last view of the same general area.

A helpful warning. It’s about a 20 foot drop.

I take thousands of photos. Shelly takes maybe 37. Beverley looks for Dale. Say, where is that man anyway? Did he get eaten by wolves?

We’ve completed our tour. And the sky is even more brown and filled with smoke.

A narrow cliffside path will lead us back down.

What happens when you put red dirt under red light?

The sky is completely brown, and even our favorite green trees are distorted in color.

A fire survey crew prepares to take care of business. It turns out that, as of this day, the decision was to let it burn, as it was not threatening any human dwellings.

Not shown in this photo: Captain Obvious.

Dale has to get his own picture … of just the sign, of course!

And the secret ingredient which makes the picnic sandwiches so delicious is …

And the secret ingredient which makes the picnic sandwiches so delicious is … hey wait a minute!

By wing coloration, this is a Baltimore oriole. By geographic location, it is a Bullock’s oriole. In any case, here he is, spying on our picnic, wanting a piece of the secret ingredient action.

A tree awash in brown light.

Not a sign you see every day.

Big tree, at the picnic area.

Oh, right, huge fire. And we’re planning on going forward.

A large tadpole meets an even larger blob of vegetation.

A reflecting pool.

Deer: not exactly a rare creature.

A brown reflection.

A decorative element at a hot spring we visited. It is, indeed, a 1927-1931 New Mexico state highway marker! Most of the surviving examples of this sign are in similarly execrable condition: there is only one that is pretty decent with the original paint and route number.

We’re still about an hour before sunset, but we get this kind of lighting.

And here is the reason why!

The sun sinks lower and lower.

Hot spring pool at dusk.

One more on the theme of “sunset through silhouetted trees”.

Brightly colored red rocks.

I have no explanation. Maybe Shelly does.

Horse and foal.

Bright yellow leaves.

Back at the Gila River bridge, looking at the confluence of the two branches.

Canyon in deep shadows.

Sunset through the smoke.

Have I mentioned the ridiculous colors?

Same yellow rocks as we saw in the morning. Completely different lighting.

The sun sets as we return to Lake Roberts. What a day!