The Hillside Letters

If you have never been in the great West, a local phenomenon may raise your eyebrows as well as a few questions. You’ll see huge letters all over the mountains and hills – some large, elaborate, and concrete, others not much more than the impression of thousands of feet wearing them into the soil. But they’re hard to miss once you get west of Denver.

From Wikipedia: Hillside letters or mountain monograms are a form of geoglyph (more specifically hill figures) common in the American West, consisting of large single letters, abbreviations, or messages emblazoned on hillsides, typically created and maintained by schools or towns. There are approximately 500 of these geoglyphs, ranging in size from a few feet to hundreds of feet tall. They form an important part of the western cultural landscape, where they function as symbols of school pride and civic identity, similar to water towers and town slogans on highway “welcome to” signs in other regions.

Block U 1971

University of Utah – Block “U” in 1971

Block U Illuminated

Illuminated for Homecoming. As with BYU (mentioned below), the Intercollegiate Knights had the privilege of whitening and lighting the Block U. The U was reconstructed a number of times, and the latest incarnation included plug boxes that allowed lightbulbs to be plugged in during homecoming. In this manner, the bulbs could be easily removed after an event and not left to the depredations of weather or vandals.


Block “U” as seen from Google Earth, the light plug boxes visible.

Block U Article

By 1974, the IK’s were an endangered species, but they did their best to keep the tradition going as long as possible. It was traditional during the famous rivalry games between the U of Utah and BYU for students to try to paint the opposing team’s letter the wrong color, which necessitated the whitewashing if efforts were successful – as well as repairing the effects of weather.

May 1973 - Block U 4

Here are six of the intrepid 9 who soldiered on. Below are three shots from an earlier event in October of 1967, showing the previous Block “U” before it’s refurbishing.

Oct 1967 - Block U 2

Oct 1967 - Block U 3

Oct 1967 - Block U

On to Provo…


The Block “Y” on the mountain above Brigham Young University


The “Block Y” illuminated at night with electric lamps. Originally the “Y” was lit with “goop,” balls of mattress stuffing mixed with oil; the Intercollegiate Knights service fraternity was responsible for this activity. Later students lit the “Y” with torches, and in the 70’s, for safety reasons, strings of lights were devised that allowed the letter to be lit up (usually at homecoming or during important athletic events) without the risk of fire on the hillside.

A lovely video which explains not only the history of the “Y” but also gives a feeling of why these letters are important to those who place them.


Payson High School – Payson, Utah

Battle Mountain

Sometimes you wonder if they were thinking. Battle Mountain, Nevada.


Map of the block letters in the West. Click through for a list of where these letters can be found.

I grew up in New York City, but I’ve been in the West since 1969, and these ubiquitous letters have become part of my world. I wouldn’t recommend the expansion of the tradition eastward, as they do cause some damage to the areas where they are installed, but the ones that exist continue to be an expression of local pride and have a decidedly western flavor.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

A World of Villages


“Dusk”: Iran – Photo by Mohammadreza Momeni. Found at 500px.


This appears to be another view of the village above.


A view of Palangan village in Kurdistan province, about 660 km (412 miles) southwest of Tehran, on May 11, 2011. Iranian Shi’ite and Sunni Kurds live in harmony with each other in Palangan, although Sunni is the religion of the majority of the people. (Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl) Found at The Atlantic (that article is worth a look).


Masouleh Village in Alborz mountains, Gilan Province (Northern Iran). Found at reddit.




Mountain village in Tibet

People live in amazing ways and in amazing places. To those of us accustomed to our own comfortable dwellings, it may seem mind-boggling. To them it’s just another Wednesday.

The title of this post was taken from this book, written by a man with whom I attended elementary school back in the Pleistocene era. A review from Library Journal:

The commonly heard phrase that a writer has “put a lot of himself into the book” is especially apt for describing Schwartz’s six-year journey through Africa and Asia. In that time Schwartz managed to get into the most obscure places imaginable and amazingly get out alive and intact. During much of his odyssey he had little or no money, so he slept on sand, floors, or in parking lots and ate whatever portion of the lo cal fare the natives whose languages he seldom understood tossed his way. The most wonderful thing about the book is the innocence Schwartz preserves despite the dangers. However the locals react to him, Schwartz makes the best of it and continues with his careful observations. He has written a really memorable book about them and himself. Laurence Hull, Stanly Cty. P.L., Albemarle, N.C.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Maine Adventure

I’ve been out of town for a week and have not had regular computer access. But  here’s a preview of some things to come.



On fire from the top down. Color was at its peak in the north and west, but just beginning to show in the south and east; still got to see some beautiful displays, though. More to come soon.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Sydney Opera House… up close and personal.

In January of 2010 I was privileged to make a pilgrimage to Australia. I spent a week in the breathtaking Wollumbin crater – indescribable, raw beauty – and another two weeks puttering around New South Wales and Queensland. I’ve posted about the Dish, the Solar System Drive, and the Warrumbungle – but here are a few photos from Sydney which I found of interest.

Opera House 1


The Sydney Opera House as you always see it in the brochures.

Opera House 4


Opera Theater Entrance



View of the city from between arches.



Side view

Opera House 5


Entry to the back promenade, off limits to all but seagulls and window-washers…

Opera Tiles 1



Opera Tiles 2


Closeup of the tiles



Opera House Bar

Go ahead, try to tell me Vedek Winn wasn’t an Aussie…



Seriously, though – It’s an amazing complex. If I had as much money as Bill Gates, I might just be able to afford a show there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Elliðaey, Iceland


This picture showed up on Reddit with the title “Because fuck everybody,” and after I stopped laughing, it piqued my curiosity.

As it turns out, this is the island of Elliðaey (63° 28’05.10″ N, 20° 10’31.98″ W), the third largest island of the Westman Islands, located south of Iceland. The island is a mere 0.18 mi² in area and is uninhabited. From this website, we learn the following information (translation is mine, so it’s imperfect but gives the gist):

“On the island is a large fishing house owned by the Ellidagrim Islands Society, which engages in puffin egg hunting in summer and in spring. In earlier times there was a hunting lodge called simply “dwelling.” The first building which was built on the island still stands. It is used for storage, and is west of the ‘Skápana.’[1] In 1953, a new lodge was built at the foot of Hábarð (the highest peak on Elliðaey)  because the old building failed the test of time. In 1985, work began on a new two-story fishing house which was attached to the house that was built in 1953; it was completed in 1987. In 1994 it was discovered that the 1953 edifice had deteriorated to such an extent that it was no longer useable. It was therefore demolished and another house built instead in the same location, with construction being completed in 1996. Between 2000-2001, a small house west of the lodge was built, which houses the Ellidagrim Islands Society sauna.”


A recent picture showing the 1996 lodge, and the small sauna finished in 2001.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this island, chief among which is that Iceland gave Elliðaey to the singer Björk as a royalty payment for her services to the nation.

From “The Independent”, 2-10-2000:

THE ICELANDIC singer Björk may have put her nation on the map, but plans to grant her exclusive use of an uninhabited island off the west coast to reward her for her services have run into difficulties.

Earlier this week David Oddsson, Prime Minister, told parliament: “Björk has done more for the popularity of Iceland than most other Icelanders. My view is that she may be given the use of this island [Ellidaey] as a royalty payment, as recognition from the state.” But, amid an uproar in the country, the government has had to reconsider its generosity. Yesterday Mr Oddsson’s office denied Ellidaey had been sold or leased to the singer. If sold, said a spokesman, it would be only to the highest bidder. Icelandic radio reported rumours that the musician was no longer interested in the island. She has neither confirmed nor denied reports and was not available for comment yesterday. Despite her much-professed love for Iceland, Björk is neither based there full-time nor does she sing in Icelandic.

Notice that the Independent article says “off the west coast.” The confusion arose because  there is another island with the name of Elliðaey to the west of Iceland (65° 8′ 42.86″ N, 22° 47′ 10.99″ W), just north of Stykkishólmur,


which is most likely the one referred to by the Prime Minister in his abortive but generous gesture. Mr. Oddsson thought it would be a nice idea, but local protests deep-sixed the plan. As for the island of Elliðaey to the south, the one with the hunting lodge, it was never associated with Björk in any way.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

[1] No idea what this refers to.

Saltair, ca. 1900


The first Saltair pavilion in Utah, around 1900. Several resorts have borne the name over time.


“No scenic wonder on the American continent is better known than the Great Salt Lake, “the dead sea of America,” eighty miles long and forty miles wide, lying a short distance west of the city of Salt Lake.
Here above the surface of the briny waves, on great pilings stands famous Saltair – the immense, picturesque pleasure resort, visited annually by hundreds of thousands of tourists from every country in the world.
No stop-over at Salt Lake is complete without a trip to the Dead Sea of the New World – to Saltair where you can float like a cork on the salt-laden waters of the Great Salt Lake. Sink? You can’t!
The waters of the Great Salt Lake contain 22 per cent salt, creating a buoyancy that keeps you on top of the waves without any effort on your part. No bathing anywhere in the world is more healthful, refreshing or invigorating. Every provision has been made for your comfort, pleasure and amusement. A maze of never-ending attractions! Every hour – every minute – something doing at SALTAIR!
Splendid ship cafe; city prices.

Trains every 45 minutes from Saltair depot. Fare, Round trip, 25¢

From the above brochure. Of note: third from front on the right, and fourth from front on the left, are my grandparents – Delbert M. and Frances Rogers Draper. This would date the photo above to around 1912, the date of their marriage.


As the Wikipedia article mentions, the resort has had a checkered history, but in its heyday was one of the premier tourist wonders of the nation.

The Old Wolf has spoken.