Usery Mountain Regional Park is a unique RV camping spot in Mesa, Arizona. It is located on the east side of Phoenix.
What sets it apart from other Maricopa County parks is the wide variety of plants and animals, uncommon trails for hiking, biking and horseback, archery range, a nature center, and a one-of-a-kind outdoor fitness gym.
During a 5 1/2 mile trek on the trails with our three dogs, we saw a small herd of deer, a coyote, an array of birds and plants, and lots of bicyclists. Remember to be courteous and step aside as they come through.
Phoenix is the Word at Usery Mountain Regional Park
One thing that grabbed our attention on this particular camping trip was the spectacular view of the mountains – up close and personal. And the wondrously huge "Phoenix" sign sprawled in whitewash across the hillside.
We wanted to learn more about it who put it there and how they did it.
It seemed apparent 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.
However, there's some fascinating (and heartening) history behind its presence here today.
The Story of the Phoenix Mountain Marker
- 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 something to guide them.
- The sign is approximately 20 miles east of the airfield in Phoenix.
- It took a Boy Scout Troop at the time 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
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 as many as 60 hillside letters, acronyms, and messages across the state of Arizona.
Visit Usery Mountain (but make reservations early)
The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). "King" was his first name rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s.
Usery Mountain Regional Park didn't become a park until 1967. But I wonder if ole Charlie Merritt realized that his idea, an air marker for pilots, would become a proud part of Phoenix history.