Westerners sure love their mountain monikers

 

The first thing I noticed when I was plucked from a sound sleep by aliens and we started flying around was that all the Western towns and cities were conveniently labeled. Lifting off from Logan, Utah, I could clearly see the big mountainside "L" get smaller as we zoomed skyward. Heading west, it only took a few minutes in hyper-drive before we were over the big "C" near Carlin, Nev. I wondered aloud to my pointy-eared pilots: "Is this helpful?"

They replied that it did indeed help with their humanoid catch-and release program. My orb-headed tour guides explained that the hillside letters were taken as sort of an "open for business" sign for alien-abduction-friendly towns.

Maybe that wasn't the real reason the townspeople put the letters there. No matter. It was the logical interpretation of life forms more advanced than ours. The telepathic messages emanating from their huge throbbing brains told me that if the people believed that putting mammoth letters on the sides of pristine mountains was a good idea, they would likely be receptive to almost anything; including abductions.

Apparently, Western states are just begging to be sucked up by zero-gravity rays, because now you can't drive 50 miles without seeing a mountain or hillside festooned with letters of some sort.

In the universal time scheme, mountainside letters have only been around a few minutes. Students at the University of California, Berkeley, put up what is believed to be the first hillside letter in 1905. Brigham Young University put up a monstrous "Y" the next year, then every school and town in the West started monogramming their mountains. Soon after, all manner or pranks ensued. The blue schools started painting the red school's letter blue and vice versa. One high school in Utah, foolish enough to put up a giant "SS" on a hillside, routinely has an "A" added as a first letter by a cross-country team's rival school. This custom is similar to painting combative epitaphs on water towers in the pancake states.

We love our letters. Some towns even set them on fire or illuminate them in other ways when the home team wins. This must really confuse the aliens.

I know you may not believe me. I have no real proof that aliens flew me around the West. There is something about their warp drives that renders digital cameras functionless. Let's just say for the sake of argument that the letters weren't really put there to guide advanced life forms. If not, why are the letters there? Why would every town from Arcata to Las Cruces label a nearby mountainside with grandiose graffiti?

Drive or fly Air Alien through the Midwest or South and you don't see any of this. Globally speaking, many perfectly fine towns around the world have no letters whatsoever plastered on their hills and mountains. Humans and aliens alike must rely solely on maps and signs to find each town. It is possible that this phenomenon has something to do with the West's abundance of mountains coupled with low self-esteem. Even the smallest mountains in the West would be recreation destinations almost anywhere else in the United States. Westerners, however, have so many peaks that they feel the need to use them to draw attention to their towns and universities.

"Look at us! We're not really hicks. We have high schools and institutions of higher education right here!" the letters seems to say.

When you mix all these letters, you have an alphabet soup or some giant game of Scrabble. It must look like something readable from low orbit. Why big letters at all? If you are going to plaster something on a mountain, why not a logo or an artist's rendering of something or other? Or, cities could have something more symbolic. Logan, Utah, where I live, could have a big wedge of cheese to symbolize its most prominent agricultural product. Berkeley could most aptly honor its counter-culture heritage with a big "LSD." And what about Boise State? Wouldn't those make interesting initials to see from the air?

Dennis Hinkamp is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in Logan, Utah, and does not believe in either aliens or the need for mountainside letters.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    The Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations to value, conserve, enhance, manage, and protect...
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • NORTH TUCSON FOOTHILLS
    11.63 acres of lush desert foothills on Tucson's near north side, secluded, secure, no HOA. 10 minute walk to Waldorf and Montessori schools, regional bike...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • MS ACCESS DATABASE PROGRAMER
    Looking for an access programmer. Contract position. Send resume with references and rates to: [email protected] www.prospace.biz
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.