Baldy Mountain located in Sanders County, Montana has a big letter em at the top, so that new students at Montana State University can haul fresh paint to it every year and spread the titanium oxide. It builds school spirit. I just read about it in the 82nd volume, issue 3 of the "Collegian". It's one of those magazines colleges make up to remind graduates that the university would like them to continue paying tuition even if they're no longer attending. This isn't particularly notable, unless you happen to come from a university that does the exact same thing and somehow consider it a little special.

Turns out Missoula, not too distant from Bozeman also harbors a university. It is the University of Montana. That of is crucial to insuring you don't confuse the two, because this college also has an initial 'M' on its nearby mountain, but it's Sentinel Mountain this time. I can imagine the battles of State and of are vicious, with each gigantic letter cheering on his respective word, unable to intercede, what with being inanimate and rooted to a mountain. There's a nice picture of Bozeman's letter on Flickr.1 Sadly, Montana State's em appears to be camera shy.

One might wonder why all this fuss over some college minutia. Well, I had my interests piqued upon reaching page 275 in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when the narrator kindly informed me of these initials sitting about. It's a paragraph of little seeming importance to the narrative. But it seemed so special and coincidental, to be sitting out there reading on an unseasonally sunny day, my personal little 'M' behind me, shrouded by the bare branches of the trees lining Kafadar Commons2 and the golden dome of Guggenheim, a tiny replica of the one atop Colorado State Capitol. To have two 'M's mentioned just in passing just under the view of a third, perhaps these formed some sort of trinity. Perhaps even..a superhero trio. After defeating dastardly illegal miners and highwaymen of the mountain, they could pass between the earth a low-pitched "Mmm" in appreciation to one another.

Certainly, I knew there were other letters on other mountains. The Golden High School has seen fit to paint a large gee atop South Table Mountain. And there have been multiple mentions of other schools' gigantic letters in requisite school spirit publications: the campus newspaper and "come to our school" information from years ago. But at least being an 'M' was special, yes?

Every mining school in the West once had its hillside M. The letter at the Montana School of Mining and Technology in Butte dates from 1910.

-from a website, a reproduction of Hillside Letters in the Western Landscape. Parsons, James.
Landscape, vol. 30, No. 1, 1988

Turns out, one of the first things I found researching this matter was a reproduction of an article from 1988. And it had plenty of interesting stuff, but most of all it had a lot of reassurance of how common it is to paint a capital letter on the side of a geographic landmark is. Even an 'M'. If anything, it appears it has become no longer cool to have a gigantic Latin letter floating over your head every day.

Somewhat disheartening, it's been. First they said that Georgia Tech had taken to singing our school song as a fight song at their games, and now we're all Johnny Come Lately to the world of mountain-bound initials. Alright, fine. Still, when I look up Mount Zion, I can appreciate that part of that massive initial is one rock I personally hauled up there, several years ago. And one of these days, maybe I'll finally haul that rock back down.


  1. Oh, here's another picture of Sentinel Mountain that gives a better view of its big letter in an earlier season.
  2. Tried to figure out where the name Kafadar came from for this one to make an interesting pipelink, but sadly there seems to be a few too many people named Kafadar in the world. But randomly found a blog of an alumnus now blogging from Japan. Reminded me of a noder or two a little. But I guess one archipelago can hold a lot of foreigners.3
  3. Spoke too soon. Might have been the subject of this article, Ahmed Kafadar.

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