Phoenix Mountain Sign - Usery Mountain Regional Park - Mesa, AZ

Fascinating History Behind the Arizona Mountain Letters

Solving the Mountain Sign Mystery

Every road trip leads us on an unexpected Let's Go Check it Out adventure. During our visit to Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa, we wanted to know who put that big Phoenix sign up on the mountain? Why? And how did they do it?

Why Mark the Mountain?

Originally, the word "Phoenix" was placed on the mountainside to help guide incoming aircraft.

When you look at an airport runway, you'll notice large bars called "fixed distance markers."

They begin 1,000 feet from the threshold – the absolute beginning of the runway, indicating where to make a safe landing.

It's what a pilot will aim for when making a visual approach.

But with today's modern technology and aircraft guidance systems, the mountain marker is no longer used for its initial intended purpose.

The History of the Phoenix Mountain Sign

  • An eccentric WWII fighter pilot named Charlie Merritt was the driving force behind creating the sign.
  • Charlie realized at the time (1949) that most of the area around Phoenix was open desert, and there were few ground markers to help pilots determine their location. They needed an air marker to guide them.
  • The sign is approximately 20 miles east of the airfield in Phoenix.
  • It took a Boy Scout Troop 5 ½ years of their spare time to build the sign.
  • The Boy Scout Troop that initially created the sign used dynamite (with experienced adult participation, of course) to clear and level the ground. They found, hauled, and strategically placed rocks and boulders of various sizes to create the arrow and individual letters.
  • Each letter is 100 feet high and 12 feet wide - enormous!
  • The distance from the tip of the directional arrow to the last letter is approximately 1,000 feet. Can you find the person standing next to a letter in the photo? It gives you an idea of the enormity of the project.
  • In January of 2010, a local Boy Scout Troop used 430 gallons of white paint and a portable sprayer to refresh the color of the letters.
  • In January of 2020, another Boy Scout Troop refreshed the message once again on New Years Day. It was the only safe day of the year to be near it because the Rio Salado Sportsman's Club is located at the base of the mountain. Their gun firing range is too close to risk being downrange.

Find Mountain Monograms Across Arizona

Phoenix Sunnyslope "S" Mountain
Sunnyslope "S" Mountain

The beloved "Phoenix" mountain sign can be seen from many locations throughout the east valley. It has become a fun reminder for tourists that they are east of Phoenix.

And, of course, passengers on commercial aircraft are sometimes treated to a view of the sign on their approach to Sky Harbor airport. It is a welcome symbol by locals that they are home.

There are now nearly 60 hillside letters, acronyms, and messages across the state of Arizona! Do you think old Charlie Merritt realized that his idea, an air marker for pilots, would become a proud part of Phoenix history?