Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What’s with the letters on the hills?

How many of us have seen a giant letter on a hill by a town signifying the name of the town, or their school name?  It seems we’ve seen that a lot in the western U.S.

The letter “B” by Bouse, Arizona

These letters, typically constructed of whitewashed or painted stones or of concrete, are cultural signatures. Letters can be traced back to 1905 with The University of California’s “C” on the Berkeley hills. It was built by the freshman and sophomore classes, and was 70 feet high. The next year, 1906, Brigham Young University had a “Y” 2000 feet above it’s Provo campus. The letter was 320 feet high, more than four times taller than the Berkeley “C”. In 1907 came the “U” at University of Utah. In 1908 saw three more colleges; a 100 foot “M” on Mount Zion behind the Colorado School of Mines at Golden, a much larger “A” for Aggies at Colorado A&M and University of Oregon at Eugene “O”.  After that many colleges followed suit. High schools and a few junior colleges and grade schools followed the collegiate example and today their letters vastly outnumber college letters.

By arbyreed - Flickr, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Hillside letters are typically built in three different manners: (1)  Built-up letters made from rocks and concrete are the most common. Other materials such as wood, old car tires, metal and vinyl have also been used. (2) Painted letters are typically found on bare rock faces and cliffs. (3) Cutout letters, the least common, are formed by removing the vegetation to create a letter.
These emblems can range in size from 10 feet tall to hundreds of feet tall. The largest includes the “L” for Lassen high School in Susanville CA at 580 feet long. Full messages have been placed on hillsides, such as “SAN LUIS OLDEST TOWN IN COLO" in San Luis, Colorado.  Every letter of the alphabet is found as a single letter on a hillside except for “X”.

                                   "La Biblia es la verdad. Leela." Translation: The Bible is the truth. Read it.                                                         
  Seen in Mexico, while driving through El Paso

Not everyone is in favor of these, believing it would destroy the natural beauty of the hillside.  Some have been abandoned because of lack of student interest, objections from environmentalists or concerns of property owners.

I try to take a picture of these hillside letters when I see them. To me they are a work of art (and labor) and show pride of a community

Has anyone seen these in places other than the American West?

Information sources: 

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