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"<PHOENIX" Sign History

Since the 1950s, the colossal Phoenix sign has adorned Usery Mountain, overlooking the Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club, a steadfast guide for both airborne and ground traffic over the years. Today, it stands as a majestic symbol in the East Valley, visible for miles around.

 

Perched atop Usery Mountain in northeast Mesa, the sign was masterfully crafted in 1956 by the late Charles Merritt, then leading Air Explorer 13 Post. Merritt, a pilot and one of Arizona’s pioneering recreational parachutists, envisioned a beacon to aid transient pilots in navigating their way to Phoenix. This ambitious project, one of the largest in East Valley scouting history, was realized with the aid of scouts ferried by buses from the old Williams Air Force Base. Together, they meticulously coated the letters and arrow with white cement, a process spanning 5 ½ years and involving 41 dedicated members of Post 13. The original paint job was done with a mixture of white cement (1 bag), lime (5 bags), milk (2 1/2 gallons) and salt (5 lbs). All of the ingredients were mixed with water in a 55-gallon barrel and hand-brushed onto the rocks. The initial paint job used around 800 gallons of paint. A repainting in 1980, used around 1100 gallons.

Stretching almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall, the marker commands attention, visible even from an altitude of 50,000 feet and discernible from Interstate 10 south of Phoenix.

 

According to Usery Mountain Park Ranger Brennan Basler, an eccentric ex-WWII pilot supervised a Boy Scout troop in the creation of this monumental sign, back when the surrounding area was a vast desert. Their mission: to guide pilots to the Phoenix airport, some 20 miles away. Over five and a half years, the scouts devoted their free time to assembling the rocks, shaping a lasting legacy.

 

Maintained by an inmate work crew from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on January 1st, 2010, the sign stands as a testament to history. Basler underscores its significance, acknowledging that while it may not be "natural," it serves as a vital relic of a bygone era when aerial navigation was more rudimentary.

 

Usery Mountain Park volunteers have meticulously measured the sign, revealing its impressive dimensions: each letter stands approximately 100 feet tall and 12 feet wide, with the entire marker spanning 1,000 feet across, rivaling the size of the Eiffel Tower.

 

Throughout the years, various Boy Scout troops have undertaken the responsibility of maintaining the sign, requiring around 430 gallons of paint to keep it gleaming.

 

In 2020, Lucas Witcher of Gilbert and Boy Scout Troop 681 embarked on an Eagle Scout project to repaint the letters, joined by 38 enthusiastic volunteers. Among them was Dennis Stark, a member of the original construction crew, who marveled at the camaraderie and dedication displayed during the endeavor.

 

The significance of the Phoenix marker has also been immortalized by cartoonist Benjamin Allen, known as Stookie Allen, who sought to portray positive narratives about teens after WWII. His depiction of the Boy Scouts constructing the marker underscores its status as one of the East Valley’s most iconic landmarks.

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