May 6, 2015 by Allison L. McCollister, NMSU News Center
For most Aggies, the 300-foot tall, 80-foot wide “A” atop “A” Mountain is a true symbol of New Mexico State University and gives both students and alumni a sense of pride as they gaze at the mountains set east of the campus.
According to NMSU legend, in the early years of the university, students from the departments of agriculture and home economics as well as engineering would routinely place an “A” somewhere on campus as an April Fool’s joke.
Later, on March 31, 1920, students stood on the tower of Goddard Hall to survey and layout a giant letter “A” on Tortugas Mountain, three miles east of campus. Students formed a bucket brigade the next day – April 1 – to carry white wash up the mountain and painted the “A.”
Almost a century later, NMSU students still maintain the enormous letter. During the Greek event “A Day of Service,” a delegate from each Greek chapter is taken by bus to the top of “A” Mountain to help repaint the “A” to keep it as bright as possible.
“Coming to paint the ‘A,’ which is something we see every day from any part of the city, you never stop to think how it actually gets there. So it’s cool to come out and help continue the tradition,” said Kailey Martinez, an NMSU student and member of the Zeta Tau Alpha chapter.
Students use paint cans with tiny holes in the bottom, dipping them into large barrels of white paint and drizzle the paint over the rocks. One byproduct of the event is how messy participants can get, which also adds to the fun. As the paint comes out of the holes in the can, it can sometimes get caught in the wind, and land on the participants. Students looking to avoid the mess typically keep their distance from the others.
“I have lived in Las Cruces my whole life, so being a part of this tradition is something that means a lot to me,” said Ryan Maki, an NMSU student and member of the Sigma Chi chapter. “I think it’s awesome that Greeks are able to participate in this tradition, since it means so much to the university.”
“Hopefully, in the next year and years to come, Greeks will continue to take part in the painting and we can share this experience with others, which has been pretty awesome, because it is something that the whole community can see,” said Alex Avila, a member of the TKE fraternity.
The “A” is about the size of a football field and easily seen from most of the city. It’s also featured in different stories and popular photographs of the university. For special events, the “A” lights up at night. During the NMSU Aggies are Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign in the fall, the “A” lights up pink for the cause. In March, in recognition of autism awareness, “A” lights up with blue lights.