A Park with Many Names
Sentinel Peak Park is a well-known local landmark that has been around for centuries. This historical landmark is much more than just a tourist hiking spot, which is evident from the many names that it has been given. In Spanish, the mountain was called “Picacho del Centinela”.The reputation of the site as a lookout point earned the location its various names due to the sentinel station that was located atop the mountain. The mountain is also referred to as “Warner’s Mountain” due to pioneer merchant Solomon Warner’s flour mill; which was located at the base of the mountain until around 1899. Ruins of the mill can still be found today. The Papago tribe refers to this mountain as “Chuk Son”, the name of the village that was previously housed at the base. The base of the mountain is also affectionately referred to as “Tucson’s Birthplace”. The Tohono O’odham people found the Stjukson (or black base) settlement at the bottom of the mountain. Many individuals, including myself, know the mountain as “A-Mountain” due to the large white “A” that has been placed in the middle of the land mass.
A Popular Myth + Quarry
Many individuals believe that the quarry below “A” mountain was hit by a meteor, thus leaving a crater on the side of the mountain. However, the crater is a myth and the quarry was real. According to one local, the quarry was called “Griffith Construction” in the 1930’s. However, the quarry almost led to the downfall of the entirety of Sentinel Peak Park. James and Christine Dodson tried to capitalize on the quarry in the late 1920’s by claiming “A” mountain through the Homestead Act. They planned to quarry the entire mountain. However, local Tucsonans were unhappy with this news since the mountain was well loved. The Dodsons then claimed that the mountain was one of many mountains in the Tucson area. Luckily, Tucson residents battled the pair in court and saved “A” mountain from being quarried to the ground. Archaeologist Homer Thiel spoke with Pat Parris of Kgun 9 Tucson to explain more about the legal procedures that took place in order for the public to gain access to the mountain again. "They planned on basically taking the top of "A" Mountain off," recalled Thiel. "The city of Tucson decided that was not a good idea. So they asked the bureau of the interior to reverse that decision. That's how we got the park up there."
On Thanksgiving day in 1914, University of Arizona’s football team played a game against Pomona College. Notably, football player Albert Condon saw the “P” that Pomona College had built along their hillside. After suggesting that the University of Arizona build an “A” to show school spirit, his civil engineering class worked on the project for approximately two years. The students used mortar and water to bind the “A” together. The letter was built using black basalt rock acquired from the mountain itself. In order to carry the letter up the mountain, there were six-horse teams. On October 23, 1915, after the university’s football team won against California Polytechnic State University Pomona, fans traveled to “A” mountain to paint the letter white. The “A” was placed on the mountain by students in 1916. The “A” has been repainted different colors several times throughout the history of its presence atop the mountain. Every St.Patrick’s day, the “A” is painted green. In addition, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the letter was painted red,white,and blue. Recently, the “A” was painted blue to support essential workers in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Annually, Homecoming week commences by the Bobcats Senior Honorary lighting the “A”. There is also a yearly fireworks display during the Fourth of July. Each year, since 1993, the “A” has been painted green for St.Patrick’s Day. “A Day” is sponsored by The Blue Key National Honorary and Tucson Community Members. During “A Day”, rising freshmen take a bus to the top of the mountain in order to paint the “A” before one of the university football games. As of 2023, “A Day” is a 99 year old tradition.
Geology of the Mountain
“A” Mountain stands 2,897 feet to the west of the Santa Cruz River. The landmark is made of several layers of igneous rock. Until the 1930s, there was a floodplain that resulted from the underground ridge of rock pushing water to the surface. The aforementioned floodplain was utilized for the purpose of growing crops. The mountain is made up of many volcanic rocks, despite the fact that the mountain is not classified as a volcano. The volcanic rocks along the foundation of the mountain are estimated to be up to 30 million years old. Through erosion and faulting, the mountain has gained its unique shape.
The Future of Sentinel Peak Park
Since 2017, there have been a few different proposals to update Sentinel Peak Park. Councilwoman Regina Romero’s former assistant, Diana Rhoades, spoke to Ernesto Portillo Jr. of Tucson.com to share her thoughts on ways to improve this local landmark. “...My hope is that we can create a trailhead and improved trail system that is accessible from the streetcar (at San Agustín Mercado), so we can finally have public transportation to our wild public lands,”(Portillo). As of April 22nd, 2017, the plan to make improvements to the park is in phase two, according to Howard Dutt, who has been working with the organization “Friends of “A” Mountain” and the Ward 1 office. Phase two of the project will include expanding walking trails, building an enclosed plaza, creating a handicap accessible path to the stone outlook, and creating walking trails at the base of the mountain. There is also the possibility that Tumamoc Hill, a neighboring ecological reserve, will be connected to Sentinel Peak Park at some point in the future. However, there are no official plans for a project to conjoin the two at this time.