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Mountain Monograms

July 6, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

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While driving eastward on I-70 through southern Utah, we noticed something interesting. Giant letters. One letter at a time, on one mountain at a time, all along the interstate. Why? Who? What? When?

Alien guideposts, left behind by ancient navigators? Could they be easily seen markers for little green tourists to follow: “Turn left at mountain ‘M,’ proceed 1.7 glicks SSE to mountain ‘U,’ bear right for .04 glicks to Wooly Mammoth Intergalactic Amusement Park entrance, follow entrance ramp past visitors’ center. You have arrived at your destination: Starbucks.”

Hmmm, maybe… But maybe the monograms were left by Paleolithic frat boys…

Actually and, more realistically, we’re getting close. It seems that the giant letters began being constructed in the early 1900s by college and high school students as a way to bring fame to their schools and sidetrack any testosterone-fed interschool rivalries that had led to violence in the past. See the “Deuce of Clubs” website’s “Mountain Monograms” for an in-depth description and history of this little-known (at least to me) proclivity of students to go around labeling mountains. Speaking from my own experiences, I am surprised to learn about an obsession that requires a great deal of hard work and, perhaps, physical danger clambering around on moutainsides, hefting heavy stones, since I thought that most male college students, when not studying or attending class, spent their time sleeping, drinking beer and chasing coeds.

Further conjecture about mountain monograms can be found at  walkingprescott.blog,” which reports: “Writing in 1986 in a journal called “Landscape,” James J. Parsons also noted: ‘Hillside symbols have a surprisingly respectable history dating back some eighty years. To a remarkable extent the letters can be traced to a single decade, 1905-1915. They have almost always been built and maintained by college or high-school student groups. The earliest letter-building projects were devices for defusing increasingly violent inter-class rivalries, which college administrators and faculty found difficult to control. It apparently worked. Making a letter was often a gala community event, an organized “men’s workday” declared a formal school holiday, with picnic lunch and supper provided by campus women.

Another blog site, (http://mtbikemeteo.blogspot.com/2008/05/montana.html) describes the mountain mongrams that a family came across while touring in Montana:

“The hiking in Missoula was awesome. Even though the peaks weren’t very big, the trails were RIGHT there. It took me 2 mins to bike to the trailhead. This particular hill had an “M” on it for University of Montana, there was one next to it that had an “L” for whatever high school is in town. I learned that the Montanans like to put big letters on their mountainsides. Totally random, but I saw several other places the next day when we drove to Great Falls and back.”

Other websites describe the various construction methods for the monograms; from the very permanent to the less-so. Some are well maintained and some less-so. Repair and repainting events have become part of some university and town schools’ annual list of celebrations. One web site describes a monogram that was not only lighted, but actually flashed as a signal that the school had defeated its rival in a ball game.

There are reports of some monograms becoming eyesores or the target of ecological groups and others slowly disappearing behind surrounding plant life. In general though, the monograms that we saw in Utah and Montana were well-maintained; at least as it appeared from several miles away.

And so, whatever your feelings are about labeling mountains; whether it creates an eyesore or a treasure, I agree with the deuceofclubs site:

“These monograms, usually of respectable antiquity, are part of community and landscape history. To some extent they reflect the spirit of the time when most were constructed, before environmental preservation and esthetics became concerns in our culture. Of the nearly 250 letters mapped, virtually all have been produced by student groups and represent their institutions. The letters remain a conspicuous and durable part of the identity of many communities, fortifying institutional allegiances and the sense of place. Occasionally they arouse antipathies among those who are offended by the intrusion of the human hand on often dramatic scenery. However, for travelers in the arid West the letters are ‘anchors to the eye,’ adding diversity and interest to the natural beauty of the landscape.”

Learn more about mountain monograms in Evelyn Corning’s book , Hillside Letters A to Z: A Guide to Hometown Landmarks, available at Amazon dot com.

BTW, “monogram spotting” might be a great travel game for the kids and grandkids. We tried to get Rocky (RIP) to play, but you know how terrier’s are; they’ve got the attention span of a 15-year old kid. LOL

Comments

2 Responses to “Mountain Monograms”
  1. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy traveler,

    After I was released from the spaceship and told not to let anyone know about my ‘air-ride’, the blue-man at the controls looked around until he found a letter F on a mountain top, took a left turn until crossing the letter J on another mountain side, dropped the landing struts, set down and opened the
    hatch, said so long , shifted into hyper-drive and shot straight up.. Until now I’ve kept my mouth shut,
    since you’ve guessed the meaning and let the ‘cat out’, I’ll squeal; YOU’RE RIGHT !!

    Smooth roads, clear skies & balmy breezes !!!!

  2. Traveler8343 says:

    Let me guess: was that “spaceship” rectangular, white, with lots of windows, most of which were barred? Hmm? And was that “blue man” wearing blue pants, a blue shirt, a badge, and a GUN? That wasn’t a spaceship, Butterbean, that was, umm, a hotel; a special kind of hotel, where people like you can go to rest for a long, long time… Where you get to play lots of board games and get jello for dessert every Friday night. LOL

    How are you doing, Butterbean? How are things going in west Texas? Any rain or relief from the heat? Don’t worry, the mothership will come by to pick you up any day now…

    Till Next Time,
    The Traveler

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