Gilas in Geat

It's April in Arizona and a young Gila Monster's fancy turns to frantic copulation with other highly poisonous reptiles. Having never seen a Gila Monster before, I was thrilled to spot no less than three on a day-long adventure deep in the Tonto Forest. Maybe it's because we arrived during mating season. Or maybe it's just because we drove for more than six hours over bony, stony jeep trails that climb high in the desert before tumbling 2000 feet into the lush Verde River Valley.

Besides the lovelorn Gila Monsters, we had plenty of wildflowers to distract us from the long drive, including pincushion cacti, left, and Mariposa Lillies, right.

After an impossibly long time, we finally spotted Sheep Bridge below us. This strange boondoggle was built in 1989 as a reminder of makeshift bridges that were once used by local sheep herders.

The bridge offers an excellent view of the miraculous Verde River, which carries an astounding volume of fast-moving gray-green water from the Mogollon Rim south through the heart of the Sonoran Desert and all the way to outskirts of Phoenix, where it is sucked dry by the hungry canals that ring this sprawling megalopolis.

Is this man a) doing the monkey b) a seriously unbalanced individual or c) as close as he will ever get to folk dancing?

As if the river itself were not appealing enough, the reeds along its edge also shelter a small warm springs.

However, there is a dress code.