Thursday, September 27, 2012

M Hill

Painting the local school's letter on a nearby hill is a popular tradition.  It seems to be prevalent across the American west (the exception being the west coast).  My hometown sports a large "M" prominently whitewashed on a high point in the middle of town.  This letter honors a local engineering college, The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology  The "M" stands for "The School of Mines" and the hill it resides upon is known locally as "M Hill."

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Can you spot the M?

SD Tech, as it is now commonly called, happens to be my alma mater.  The school has a wonderful tradition that centers around M Hill.  Every fall, during homecoming, everyone climbs up the hill to place a plaque on the M.  Inscribed on this plaque are the names of all the graduating seniors for that year.  

Our climb started on this gravel road

I'm ashamed to admit that during my four and half years at Tech, I never once participated in this homecoming tradition.  (It was always held very early in the morning, and I couldn't get out of bed in time).  As a matter of fact, I've only climbed M Hill once, during a college reunion back in 1995.

Early fall colors

While visiting my parents, my Dad suggested one morning that we go climb M Hill.  I thought it was a great idea.  

The hilltop is getting closer..

The day promised to be hot, so my parents and I got an early start.  The hill is located in the center of town.  The land around M Hill has now been donated to the city parks department, and is criss-crossed with numerous trails.  It's a great place for hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers.

Arriving at the M

With so many trails to chose from, at first it was a little confusing to find the right one.  We started out on one path, only to find it led us away from our destination.  Then my Dad asked a couple of lady runners and they sent us in the right direction.

The M is made up of many plaques

It's about a mile to the top, and probably 500 feet elevation gain.  The hilltop view is nice indeed, with the city spread out in all directions, and the Black Hills a distant dark shadow on the horizon.

The class of 1944

But the main attraction on M Hill is the "M" itself.  It's actually a combination of three letters - the M is flanked by an "S" and a "D" on each side.  These letters are gigantic!  They're made of rock and concrete, whitewashed to stand out in the grassy slope.

My Dad stands next to the M
And sunk into the hard surface are plaques of past graduating classes.  It's great fun to read the older ones.  I found some dating back to the 1920s.

Graduates names

A large number of my family members have graduated from SD Tech - three brothers, two uncles, two brother-in-laws, and one sister-in-law.  And one of my nieces is a current student.

My Mom finds her brother's name

My mom located the plaque from one of my uncle's graduating class, and found her brother's name.

Standing next to my graduating class plaque

And of course I had to find my graduating class.  It didn't take me long to spot it - one of the larger, newer plaques cast into the "D."  It was fun to read the names of people I'd attended college with.  And of course, it's always a thrill to locate your own name.

Admiring views from the top

We took our time poking around, reading many of the inscriptions, and admiring the marvelous panoramas from on high.  But the day was heating up fast and there was no shade on this bare hillside.  Time to head back into town.

The rocky road back down

Not wanting to get lost on another windy trail, we opted to follow the rocky road back to our car.  On the descent, I passed a couple pretty wildflowers, still hanging on despite the lack of rain, and summer heat.  Again, my amazingly fit parents had no trouble climbing up and descending this steep hill.

Cheery yellow flower

Although short, M Hill is a nice local hike with great rewards.  Not only are you treated to an amazing view, there's also a little bit of history on this summit.  

And it's not everyone that can say their name is inscribed on top of a hill!   :)

Linking to Sunny Simple Sunday.


  1. We've seen so many of these letter when traveling in the west and wandered about the whys of them. Now we know!! Pretty cool tradition to have!

  2. I have to laugh for there are no large hills in the midwest - so this is not a tradition. Yet, so often, we have seen them out west and wondered...we just saw a few in Colorado. I have to show your post to my husband, for it explains so much! And who knew that all the graduates names were up there!

  3. Very cool. love that it is made up of graduating names I don't think I have seen one like that before. Have you ever gone to missoula and climbed to their M? not as cool of an M as this but its a bit of trek I think I need to find more of these letters to climb to for fun.


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