Monday, March 16, 2015

Mysterious Giant Arrows

There are dozens of giant concrete arrows scattered across the landscape of America, and most people don’t know they exist.  It turns out they are part of an old visual navigation system for Air Mail pilots.  In the early days, there was no electronic equipment for navigating aircraft, so in 1924 a system of beacons and arrows was devised by the Postal Service.  50 foot towers with rotating beacons were placed on giant concrete arrows, 50 to 70 feet long that pointed the way to the next beacon and arrow.  Most of them have disappeared now, but it is fun looking for the ones that remain, and there are a few web sites that give location clues.

For many years I have enjoyed searching for, and photographing, interesting and obscure sights across the West, often with long-time camping buddies Bruce Gregory and Stephen Johnson.  Recently they found two of these arrows in the Nevada desert, and since I wasn’t with them I was determined to find one of my own.  Bill Parslow and I found this arrow at Strevell, an Idaho ghost town.

 At one time, a beacon was located on the square patch of concrete on the arrow, but most of the beacons were demolished and the steel used during WWII.  You can see the cut off supports in the first photo.

On the way to Strevell, I spotted this beacon at Malad City Airport.  It strongly resembles the ones used with the arrows, and I believe Malad had an arrow at one time, but I have no idea if this was originally an Air Mail beacon.

We found this arrow after figuring out its location from an image on Google Earth, and were able to drive through a gap in a fence, across a field, and park right next to it.  I took a ladder so we could get a higher angle photo of the arrow.  The concrete ruins at the tail of the arrow housed a generator and fuel to light the beacon.

I hope to be able to search out and photograph more of these mysterious arrows on occasion.

After we were done with the arrow, we photographed this ruin which I later learned was part of Mary’s Café.  There isn’t much more left of Strevell, but we found concrete pads scattered in the sagebrush where there used to be other buildings.  I even found the remains of another beacon and learned that there was once an airport here with a large beacon system.  We celebrated the successful day with pie at Mollie’s Café in Snowville, Utah before the long drive home.

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