Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mountain Monograms...U Ever Wonder Y?

Mountain Monograms!
Pleasant Grove's "G" with Mount Timpanogos looming above.

For as long as I can remember, the big white "G" on the mountainside east of my hometown of American Fork, Utah has been a part of the landscape of my life.  Every time my parents would take us on a drive we watched for the "G" that presided over the neighboring town of Pleasant Grove.  I always wondered what it meant.  What did that big "G" stand for?  One late summer night I looked out the window and was amazed and enchanted...the "G" was all aglow. That was when I learned that the "G" stood for Pleasant Grove High School and that it was all lit up for Homecoming.

The "G" from the hiking trail.

According to Wikipedia, in 1921, a group of seniors put a block letter "G" on an unnamed peak west of Mount Timpanogos.  The first time it was lit was in 1929.  There was once a Pleasant Grove holiday called "G Day" when the letter would be lighted and the townsfolk would celebrate.  The holiday was discontinued due to revelers causing damage to the football field.  Recently students raised $5,500 in a "Light the G" fundraiser to keep the icon lit on special occasions such as homecoming and graduation.

Why a G instead of a P?
It bothered me a lot back then, that Pleasant Grove used a G instead of a P.  It just didn't make sense to me.  I was doing some research online today and I think I may have come across the answer.  In the high school's early years, their mascot was known as the Pleasant Grove "Grover."  in 1959, the mascot was changed to the "Valkyrie" and eventually became the "Viking" which is the mascot today.

Distribution of Mountain Monograms Across the West
Notice the line of dots along the I-15 Corridor.

Mountain Monograms
The hillsides and mountainsides of Utah and other western states are adorned with big block letters...like the Block U of the University of Utah and the giant Y above Brigham Young University. Lately I have wondered why there are so many of them?  I wasn't even aware there was a term for such things...Mountain Monograms.  A definition from Wikipedia states "Hillside letters or mountain monograms are a form of geoglyph (more specifically hill figures) common in the American West. These are typically created and maintained by schools and towns.  Ranging in size from a few feet to hundreds of feet tall, they are an important part of western culture, symbols of school pride and community identity.  Water towers play a similar role in other parts of the country.  There is a popular myth that hillside letters were built so that early pilots could identify towns from the air in order to drop off "air mail."

The Big "C" in Berkley, California

Berkley's Big "C"...The First Mountain Monogram
According to online sources, the first three mountain monograms erected were due to class rivalries at universities.  The first letter was built in 1905 on Charter Hill overlooking the UC Berkley campus as a means of ending an unruly rivalry between the classes of 1907 and 1908.

The "Block U" of the University of Utah.
Size...a little over 100 ft. tall.

The "Block U."
A few weeks following the (1905) building of the Berkley "C,"  class rivalry between the sophomore and freshman classes of the University of Utah produced a hillside "U."
Students Repainting the "Block U."

The "Y" of Brigham Young University
The "Y" is 322 ft. in height and 120 feet wide.

"Y Mountain."
The following year, 1906,  Brigham Young University proposed the first 3-lettered hillside emblem, "BYU." After building the letter "Y", the school decided that it would be too much work to build the remaining letters.

Students apply hot lime...1908

Dr. Harvey Fletcher, the renowned scientist who graduated from BYU in 1907, wrote about the first Y Day in 1906, "The students stood in a zig zag line about 8 feet apart stretching from the bottom of the hill to the site of the Y.  The first man took the bag of lime, sand or rocks and carried it 8 feet and handed it to the next man.  The second carried it another 8 feet and handed it to the third man and thus the bag went up the hill, each man shuttling back and forth along his 8-foot portion of the trail."

This year Brigham Young University finally became the owner of Y Mountain.  Representative Jason Chaffetz sponsored a bill that was passed by Congress, allowing BYU to purchase the 80 acres surrounding the "Y."

Hillside Letters Across the West...
Even the fictional western town of Radiator Springs has a mountain monogram.

Closer View.

Hillside letters have been a part of my life for so long that I really didn't pay much attention to them any more...until recently.  Pulling out of the drive-thru of the Boulder City Mickey D's, I noticed this on a rocky mountainside:
Boulder City, Nevada.

It was like a bolt out of the blue...there had to be a story in these letters that seem to be everywhere! On my drive home I noticed letters on the hillsides of Parowan, Beaver, Fillmore, Nephi and Payson...and there are many more.  There are an estimated 72 hillside letters, messages and acronyms across the state of Utah...over 500 across the West and Canada.   For example, there are 81 in California, 45 in Nevada, 59 in Arizona and 34 in Idaho.  The densest concentrations are found along the Mormon Corridor in Utah, Idaho and the Los Angeles Basin.

Hole N' The Rock...tourist attraction near Moab.

On your next vintage vacation in the Old West, keep your eyes peeled for hillside letters.  They could be found in any little town with a big hill or mountain nearby.  I can't wait for my next car trip!

1 comment:

Tammy's in Love said...

Love it! Minnesotans don't write with rocks...but we don't have mountains to decorate.