The 70-foot concrete arrows you didn’t discover that have been the maps of the sky

Although maybe not as well-known or enigmatic because the Nazca strains in southern Peru, the Kazakhstan Steppe geoglyphs or California’s Blythe Intaglios, the U.S. has some fascinating Twentieth-century artifical creations meant to be seen from above. They performed a key position in flight lengthy earlier than the times of contemporary navigational software program and know-how.

What are these mysterious monuments of which I communicate? The reply is … pointed — as within the tip of an arrow, pointed.

In truth, they’re 50- to 70-foot-long concrete navigational arrows that initially helped information the U.S. Postal Service because it entered into the sphere of airmail supply.

Virtually 100 years in the past, about 1,500 of those arrows have been constructed to function navigational “indicators” to be seen from the sky because the Postal Service and Commerce Division seemed to expedite the motion of mail in a brand new period of flight.

These relics of the previous that when pushed us towards the longer term are nonetheless on the market — or quite, beneath 200 of them are in various states of existence. Nevertheless, if my conversations and observations are even remotely correct, even essentially the most seasoned vacationers and aviation fans might not know of their existence. Of the few individuals who do find out about them, even fewer have seen one.

The remaining arrows are in locales starting from off-the-beaten-path spots to areas simply off the busiest of highways (however maybe hidden beneath a cover of underbrush and timber and even on an open mountaintop).

We first realized of those arrows by happenstance a couple of years in the past and have since made it a mission to take the following alternative to see it for ourselves. If, like us, you might be curious and at all times in search of new adventures, here is what we realized.

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The historical past of the navigational arrows

Within the early days of airmail within the U.S., primarily utilizing World Conflict I plane and pilots, airmail was nonetheless not a very “specific” journey despite the fact that it was a giant step ahead. On the time, such flying was restricted to the daylight, and the mail could be transported by practice through the night time.

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This method clearly hindered total progress and velocity. So, the federal authorities developed a plan to supply a connect-the-lighted-dots pathway from coast to coast.

A sequence of 51-foot steel towers with beacons have been constructed and positioned roughly 10 miles aside. On the base of every beacon, a 50- to 70-foot concrete arrow was constructed and painted a vivid chrome yellow to reinforce visibility.

The arrows have been laid out and aimed to direct the pilot to the following navigational advanced. The subsequent advanced would then information them to the following advanced, and so forth, till they reached their vacation spot.

The rotating beacons ultimately provided lights of two million candlepower. Moreover, a 10-by-14-foot shed was constructed at every website to accommodate turbines and gas. Visible data was painted on the sheds as to the beacon quantity, based mostly on mileage, together with letters to designate the route.

As secondary identifiers, crimson or inexperienced lights flashed Morse code to tell apart every particular beacon and tower. At the side of these guiding lights, emergency airfields have been constructed each 25 miles to assist the pilot in case an issue occurred in flight — which definitely occurred, particularly in these early days.

The arrows pointed towards the jap terminus on east-to-west routes and to essentially the most northern cease on north-to-south paths. Los Angeles to Salt Lake Metropolis would have the marker pointed to Salt Lake Metropolis, and Dallas to Chicago would have the indicator aiming towards Chicago.

In truth, lots of the main U.S. business airways can hint their roots to the incomes generated by the contracts of those early airmail routes.

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Looking for the arrows

As soon as we first realized of the arrows, we researched the routes and authentic areas of the arrows and beacons. We have been thrilled (and maybe dismayed) to study that we had unknowingly pushed inside a mile of a number of websites whereas touring by locations like St. George, Utah and Las Vegas.

On the best way to a ski journey in Brian Head, Utah, we charted a course that concerned turning off I-15, going previous a Walmart and a golf course, and thru a subdivision till we reached a water tower on the aspect of a hill. The arrow was awaiting simply above the tower.

On the very crest of the ridge, there it was. A bit lonely, remoted and worn, however a chunk of historical past all the identical. A monument had been positioned there to memorialize its significance and its mission.

We photographed it from each angle and spent a substantial amount of time there simply appreciating the discover. It was maybe not on the identical degree as discovering the Misplaced Dutchman Mine, however we felt rewarded all the identical.


We puzzled what number of younger’uns had climbed this hill, or one similar to it, within the late Nineteen Twenties and waved when the low-flying Western Air Specific Douglas M2 plane flew by because it made its option to or from Salt Lake Metropolis. We definitely would have.

Our appetites now duly whetted, we set out towards Las Vegas to proceed our arrow search. Simply south of Las Vegas, the place Las Vegas Boulevard and I-15 are separated solely by a small hill, our campaign took on new zeal. We knew from analysis that one other coveted arrow was perched on the highest of that very same excessive floor.

Sadly, we started our ascent within the worst attainable spot and our climb slowly wound across the rocky rise as we looked for one of the best avenue to its treasured apex. Nevertheless, simply when our pessimism was peaking, a neater path offered itself; in a couple of extra minutes, we weren’t solely on high but in addition on high of the arrow.

This arrow, a part of the previous 650-mile Contract Airmail Route 4 from LA to Salt Lake Metropolis, pointed immediately at Las Vegas.


Within the Nineteen Twenties and Nineteen Thirties, the arrow wouldn’t have directed the pilot’s imaginative and prescient and a focus to something resembling what we might see from that peak on that day. Mendacity beneath would have been solely miles of uninterrupted desert and a railroad-centric small city of about 5,000 inhabitants.

Not even the wildest of desires might have predicted the longer term that awaited that arid scape. This specific arrow had been repainted within the close to previous, however no remnants of the beacon tower or the operation shed remained. We recorded this reminiscence and left the arrow to its regular solitude.

We’ve got since added a 3rd arrow to our visible assortment with a discover close to Meridian, Mississippi, and we hope to proceed discovering new areas as our travels enable. Whereas maybe not value getting down to discover on their very own, they’re a worthy “aspect quest” as we cross the nation on future journeys.

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Backside line

Using the beacons and arrows began in 1925, and by 1929, the Transcontinental Airway System had stretched from New York to San Francisco. Mail could possibly be flown from coast to coast in about 29 hours flying west or 34 hours flying east.

The lighted airway had a fairly quick historical past of about 10 years as technological advances in radar and different navigational aids compelled them into obsolescence. A lot of the towers have been ultimately disassembled when their mission ended, with among the metal used within the warfare effort of the Nineteen Forties.

Various the concrete arrows have been purposefully destroyed in that very same period simply in case enemy plane invaded the U.S. and would possibly use them for steering.

Whereas the period of the arrows as they as soon as have been is now over, some are nonetheless on the market ready to be seen once more by these curious vacationers prepared to have a look.

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