So many of us pack light for a road trip these days. Compass? Atlas? Directions? Too easy… it’s all in your smartphone. So imagine the nightmare you could find yourself in should you lose your phone in the middle of nowhere.
It’s hard to imagine trekking across the US without a digital companion, but sprinkled helpfully across the country are giant 70-foot arrows to help guide you back to safety. They’re from the pre-digital age of US mail delivery.
Overgrown with weeds and cracks, this long concrete arrow will point your way out of the desert.
Because the US Postal Service started using cross-country air mail before the days of getting reliable radio in their army surplus planes, the US Postal Service installed these arrows for the flyer’s safety. The line of the beacons bisects the country longitudinally from San Francisco to New York City.
The Federal government installed the concrete arrows in 1924 to be positioned next to a 50-foot tall tower with a rotating gas-powered light. These were supposed to be visible from 10 miles high for lost pilots. Here is a model of the beacon and arrow system at the International Plastic Modelers Society Nationals contest in Loveland, CO.
During World War II, advances in radio had rendered the beacons and arrows obsolete and the government dismantled the metal towers for the war effort. There is a small effort to preserve these beacons before they vanish completely. Here is a fully restored tower and generator shack in New Mexico.
Road trip, anyone?