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Monday, August 19, 2019

GREENS PEAK: Hike to the High Point of the Springerville Volcanic Field

The beastly profile of Greens Peak near Greer.
From a distance, the lopsided hump of Greens Peak with its sparsely vegetated south face and top fringe of conifers resembles the shaggy profile of an African wildebeest.
Escudilla Mountain (horizon on right) seen from Greens Pk.
The funny-looking hill sits a few miles north of State Route 260 near the town of Greer, between the lofty peaks of eastern Arizona’s White Mountains and the colorful badlands of the Petrified Forest National Park and offers a unique vantage point in the ecoregion between alpine forests and high-desert plains.
Looking toward Springerville from Greens Peak
Mima mounds dot the meadows around Greens Peak
The hike climbs to the top of a cinder cone volcano
Fleabane grow in dense clumps along the route
Aspens thrive on the north face of Greens Peak
The 10,134-foot extinct cinder cone volcano is the highest point of the Springerville Volcanic Field-- a swath of hundreds of diverse geological wonders that runs roughly between the towns of McNary and Alpine. Surrounded by miles of open rangeland, meandering creeks and sweet-smelling fir-spruce woodlands, the area is also home to dozens of easy-to-explore volcanic elements and glacial imprints. For an in-depth but approachable read about this fascinating corner of Arizona, check out A Guide to the Geology of the White Mountains and the Springerville Volcanic Field, Arizona by John V. Bezy and Arthur S. Trevena. It’s available as a free download on the Arizona Geological Survey website. 
Hundreds of geological features are visible from Greens Pk
The book describes several field trips to some of the area’s most interesting peculiarities. The keynote trip is a hike up to Greens Peak.  
Summit of Greens Peak has great views in all directions
With its beastly appearance and half bald, half forested slopes, the mountain is a natural draw for curious visitors in search of an off-the-radar summit hike with primo views. Although it’s short in length and ascends on a gradual, undulating grade, the trek is not for the faint-of-heart. It begins at over 9,000 feet in elevation where thin air will tax the lungs of unacclimated Valley dwellers. If you’re not up to the 600-foot haul to the summit, there are plenty of curiosities to explore around the mountain’s base including the mima (pronounced may-muh) mounds.
Sunrise ski area and Fence Tank seen from Greens Peak
One of the enduring mysteries of White Mountain geology, is the origin of the mounds.
Harebells bloom in alpine meadows through September
Rodents, imbedded root systems and creatures from outer space all have been credited with making these roundish, lumps of gravel that average 2 feet high in the breezy meadows below the peak.
Summit marker on 10,134-foot Greens Peak
The prevailing theory is that these odd lumps are remnants of a glacial ice field that receded some 25,000 years ago leaving behind a landscape that smacks more of Iceland than Arizona.   
A pollinator alights on a Western yarrow plant.
Don’t be intimidated by the hill’s steep, stark appearance. Following an edge-hugging road that makes a 180-degree swing along the mountain’s west and south flanks, the steady uphill slog is easier than it looks.  Along the lung-pumping climb, vista points appear around every kink in the road.
North view from the summit of Greens Peak
Look for surrounding hike hubs like Pole Knoll, Mount Baldy (11,420 feet) and the trails around Big Lake. Near the top, the distinctive profile of Escudilla Mountain (10,912 feet) that sits near the New Mexico border shows a frenzy of aspen resurgence in the scar of the 2011Wallow Fire.  On the summit, a fire lookout and communication towers rise above the coniferous woodlands that cover the mountain’s northeast flanks.
Greens Peak seen from nearby Fence Tank corral.
To the south, the web-like patterns of ski runs at Sunrise Park Resort near Greer stand out above a landscape of misshapen volcanic bluffs, mounds and eroded cones.
Cattle graze in meadows at the base of the mountain.
The mountain’s breezy high-elevation edges are also ideal for birdwatching or spotting herds of pronghorn, elk and ubiquitous cattle roaming among lumpy grasslands and watering holes below.
A fire lookout and communication towers on the summit
LENGTH: 2 or 4 miles roundtrip
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 9,520 – 10,134 feet
From Pinetop-Lakeside, travel east on State Route 260 (toward McNary).  Continue to roughly 3 miles past State Route 273 to Forest Road 117 near milepost 380 on the left (about a mile past the Railroad Grade trailhead).  Follow FR117 north for 3 miles to a "Y" junction at Forest Road 61 where a sign reads “Greens Peak 2 miles”. You can park here for a 4-mile roundtrip hike or veer left and drive another mile to the next “Y” intersection at FR61/61C
for a 2-mile hike.  Roads are maintained dirt and cinder and passable by sedan.
INFO: Arizona Geological Survey
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