Did You Know: Phoenix Air Marker Has Been Around Since The 1950s

April 11, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Mark Troester)
Rocks that form the letter "P" for Phoenix on Usery Mountain. You can see a park volunteer standing near the top of the P and the yellow tape measure over the rocks.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
An up-close view of the Phoenix air marker on Usery Mountain.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
A view of the arrow and Phoenix air marker on Usery Mountain in Mesa.
(Photo courtesy of the Usery Mountain Regional Park)
Stookie Allen Phoenix air marker cartoon from 1956.

It has directed traffic for decades. Today, it’s a decorative feature in the East Valley that can be seen by air and land from miles away.                  

You may have driven past it —the white Phoenix sign with an arrow directing you westward. It sits on Usery Mountain in northeast Mesa. Did You Know the giant Phoenix word has decorated Usery Mountain since the 1950s?

“A boy scout troop under the direction of an eccentric ex-WWII pilot actually built that sign," said Usery Mountain Park Ranger Brennan Basler.

Basler took me in his truck up Usery Pass Road to get a close look at it. He said the park has had information on when it was first created.   

“And what they did was they took rocks of the side of Usery Mountain over there and then assembled them into the word Phoenix with that arrow in front of the Phoenix pointing toward Phoenix," Basler explained.

He said the boy scout group was given a project to create a marker. At the time, this area was an open desert. It was to help direct pilots to the Phoenix airport just over 20 miles to the west.

“Now what’s really amazing about that sign not only the history, it took them five and half years of their free time to assemble the rocks there, but it’s the size of it," Basler said.

According to Usery Mountain Park volunteers who measured the sign, each letter is about 100 feet high and 12 feet wide. Basler said from the tip of the arrow to the end of the word, the sign is 1,00 feet across— that’s about the size of the Eiffel Tower.

For years the sign has been maintained by other scout troops.

“January 1 of 2010, another boy scout troop, I understand they used about 430 gallons of paint with portable sprayers to spray that, all those rocks down to make the Phoenix sign nice and bright and white," said Basler.

The story behind the Phoenix marker is told by Cartoonist Benjamin Allen, best known as Stookie Allen. He was a nationally syndicated WWII cartoonist. After the war he wanted to change the negative image juveniles were getting during that time, so he created a pictorial column on teens doing positive things. One of his stories highlighted the boy scouts creating the Phoenix marker.