Usery 2933 • "Phoenix Arrow Peak" • Usery Mountains
• Tonto National Forest
• Maricopa County

The famous PHOENIX letters on the south side of the peak

The peak as we started our hike, looking from the north

The top, with the sun blocked by a well-placed saguaro

The last 50 feet got scrambly

I made it to 2018

Southeast view of Pass Mountain

Northeast view: closer in is EJ Peak, then the Goldfield Mountains with Dome Mountain, and way in back are the Four Peaks and Buckhorn Peak to their right

Southwest view of the Mesa City Highpoint, which I hiked on January 1, 2014, exactly 4 years ago

View as we were descending

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Prominence Peaks


Date: January 1, 2018 • Elevation: 2,933 feet • Prominence: 293 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 2 hours • Gain: 920 feet • Conditions: Sunny and warm • Teammates: Daniel Fleischmann

This is the famous "Phoenix Arrow" peak in the Usery Mountains, where Mesa and the Tonto National Forest boundary meet one another. Dan Fleischmann called me up to see if I wanted to hike a peak on New Year's, and I said sure. We've both hiked the other main peaks in this bumpy range independently, but had not yet hiked this particular peak.

We met in the late morning at the parking area on Ellsworth Road, east of the peak, and started hiking west up the sandy drainage that emanates from the Usery Mountains. We walked about a half mile, placing us a little northwest of the top.

We then left the wash and started up the slopes, following ridges as we came to them. In about twenty minutes, we had emerged onto the main range crest, slightly west of the summit. We inched across the top, through easy rock outcrops, to the final saddle, about one hundred feet below.

The hike to the top was steep but simple. Only in the last fifty feet did we need to use hands to hoist ourselves over the big rocks. We were on top in about an hour after starting. Not too shabby. With the clear weather, we had good views in all directions. When we signed into the log, some guy had already been up here! Just 12 hours into 2018, and someone had beaten us up here.

We were both interested in following a different ridge down, and the most logical would have been the main crest that trends northeast. However, from the top looking down, the climbing would have been a little too uncertain to chance directly. Instead, we wandered a little to the south and followed another ridge, this one a little south of due east.

This ridge was rocky with sections of large-grained "grus" gravel that occasionally caused slippery footing. However, it was pitched nicely and we made good time down this ridge. We walked out to the road and from there, back to our cars, a two-hour round trip hike. It was good to start off the new year with a peak, and thanks to Dan for suggesting it.

The peak is known for the large block letters "<PHOENIX" that lie on the mountain's lower southern slopes. The letters are 100 feet tall and the whole thing about 1,000 feet in length. They are made of white-painted rocks, not of concrete.

It was put in over a five year period by Boy Scouts in the 1950s, intended to direct wayward aircraft to the main airport in Phoenix, 30 miles to the west. Back then, this part of Mesa was undeveloped open desert. There is an airfield in the area, and perhaps a few pilots thought it was Phoenix and landed there.

The letters are symmetric, so laying down all those rocks must have been a very exacting task. Just moving them all in place would have been arduous work. Later scout troops maintain the letters with new coats of paint.

I have no idea how big a problem wayward airplanes was back in the 1950s, and even back then, they would have had radios, or at least sensed that there are too few buildings down below, it must not be Phoenix yet. Also, why spell out the whole city's name? The abbreviation "PHX" or "PHO" would have done the trick for half the effort. These days, it's one Arizona's oddball attractions.

(c) 2018 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.