It measures 100 feet tall and 50 feet wide, making it about twice the size of the letters in the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign in California. It’s the “P” on the side of Table Mountain east of Alamo, and it’s been up there for quite a bit longer than you might think.
Many towns around the state as well as in several others states have a letter or a symbol resting high on a prominent place for everyone to see.
Putting a marking or a symbol to identify the location of a town or city is not just a 20th century invention, the practice dates back to ancient times. Historians say some cities in ancient Greece were known to have letters on mountains above the city to mark their location.
The “P” was not there when the Southern Paiute Indian tribes lived in the valley. It was not there when the first of the white settlers came to the valley in the 1860s. It was not there when the first ranches in the valley were laid out by George W. Richard and later parceled off to his descendants who established an area that was to become known as “Richardville.”
It was not there when William Thomas Stewart led his group of settlers from Kanab, Utah to the valley in 1901 with the express purpose of establishing a new town and laid out the plan for streets. It was not there when the first houses and church buildings were built. It was not there when the first automobile came into the valley about 1915, America’s involvement in World War I, and it was not there when the Great Depression gripped the valley and the nation, in the early 1930s.
There was just a bare spot on the mountain, like lots of other spots up there, and nobody really thought about it.
Imagine what the mountain would look like if the “P” were not there even now? You wouldn’t pay any attention.
Yet, to most everyone living in the Pahranagat Valley today, the “P” has always been there and they have never known a time without the large letter for all to see and take pride in.
In 1931, the schools in the Pahranagat valley finally unified into one district, and in 1937 the new high school opened in Alamo providing a full four-year program and giving more room than the three-room old school right next door.
With a new sense of pride in the new school, it seemed like a good time to put a letter someplace on a mountain around Alamo to mark the spot of the town.
Other towns in southern Nevada have alphabet letters to mark the location of their town; Panaca (the Lincoln County “L”), Lund, Ely, Moapa, Mesquite and maybe others. Smith Valley, over on the western side of the state has one, too.
Just who first thought of the plan, if any one person did, may not be known, and it’s not even necessary to know. One local woman said, “Table Mountain is a special mountain, just made to fit.” So it seemed as good a place as any, and probably better than anywhere else.
The late Edwin Higbee often said the decision to undertake just such a project was the work of the boys in the Ag class of PVHS teacher George Willardson. However, the late LaMoine Davis recalled that band teacher Horace Reed was the one who got the idea rolling.
Whatever way it was, both agreed that Ag class member Elmer Davis, LaMoine’s older brother, was in charge of the project with help from classmates Bill Lamb, Roy Nesbitt, Kay Wright, Bruce Bunker,Keith Cutler, Charlie Hewitt, Max Erkenbreck, Dave Schofield, and maybe some others Higbee could not remember.
Sometime in the spring of 1938, Elmer and Edwin, along with some of the other boys, possibly Mr. Willardson and Mr. Reed, too, went up the steep grade on the mountain to pick a place where they wanted the letter to be. They selected a spot just above a ledge of rock outcropping nearly in the center of the mountain’s western face.
“First time we went up,” Edwin said, “we took horses, water and lime. Packed them on horses and put water in 5-gallon gas cans. There used to be a lot of old 5-gallon cans around.”
They went up on horseback as far as they could, then on foot the rest of the way to the spot chosen. There was no path or trail to follow, Higbee said, “the boys simply made their own.”
They gathered up the largest rocks they could find on site, and there were lots of them, and placed them in the shape of the letter. “We didn’t have much,” said Higbee, “just kind of an outline.” An outline of a letter, 100 feet high and 50 feet wide.
LaMoine Davis said he remembered watching the young men up on the mountain that first time. He said he could walk out of the old school – still functioning as the grade school then – and go to the northeast corner (probably at the intersection of present day Broadway Street and Joshua Tree) and watch what was happening. He recalled there were people at the lower levels who had flags, and by moving the flags in the right directions, could let those working with the rocks know how to set the lines properly. LaMoine said, “They got it pretty straight, too, didn’t they?”
So there it was, a big white block “P” just above that rock ledge outcropping, easily seen from most any spot in town.
Over the next year, it was somehow decided that the letter needed to be changed a little, so in 1939 some of the boys again went up and added the base and the little tail to the top of the letter, making it look as it does today.
This time other people of the community wanted to help also. Elmer Davis took his dad’s old Chevy truck and drove that up the canyon as far as he could, then had to walk the rest.
For many years afterward it was an annual task of the high school students in the spring, usually in May, to make the trek up on the mountain and put a new coat of mixed water and lime on the letter.
For a while it remained necessary to ride horses up most of the way, but as pickups got better, the students would drive those as far as they could and walk the rest of the way, the same way Elmer Davis had years before. And today with 4-wheel drive vehicles, a person can go almost to right under the rock ledge, but the dirt road is difficult.
Yet, there is something that hasn’t changed over the many years: it is still necessary to carry water and lime up to the letter by hand. The lime still comes in bags and the water is carried now in 1-gallon plastic jugs. Everyone has to bring one, or at least take one up on foot. The author of this article has done the same.
LaMoine Davis said that in his time in school, in the 1940s, and for some years after, “It was a highly anticipated event, to go up on the mountain, and quite an ordeal, too.” But, when the work was done, kids usually skipped the rest of day to go swimming at Big Ash, which was then a popular and well-maintained recreation spot.
Why the letter “P” when the name of the town is Alamo? Some of the old timers say that when the schools all became one district in 1931, “there was a little tension” between the Alamo schools and other residents in Pahranagat Valley, so it was decided that a “P” was the thing to do instead of an “A.”
The “P” spends four lonely years anymore before it is visited again by the high school students. Since 1977 the school has stopped going up every year, and changed to going just once every four years, rather than not go at all.
PVHS Principal Mike Strong goes along with other past principals who have said doing it once every four years gives everyone who attends PVHS a chance to go up and experience this unique event, if they want to.
It’s something not done by schools in very many other towns around the country. It’s all voluntary and some of the kids choose not to go. Their loss.
Not a lot of people have actually gone up to the “P”. Have you? It is rather steep, but there it is, and it has been there for a long time now for everyone to enjoy. It figures to be there for a long time to come as well, a landmark for all to see.
There is no official ceremony planned to mark the anniversary.