Day 106: Giant arrows in the desert

One of our readers e-mailed a link to us about the giant concrete arrows that were installed all over the US to aid in air mail navigation in the 1920s (thanks Mrs. S!). Each site consisted of a 51-foot tall lighthouse, an operations shack, and an arrow shaped concrete slab.  These sites were spaced about 10 miles apart from one another, so the pilot could find his way along the route.  According to the list I found online, over 800 of these stations existed in the Western US alone.  By World War II, advances in radio navigation made these sites obsolete, and most of the towers were cut down and converted into steel for the war effort.  The stations back in the day looked like this:

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Today, only two of the towers remain, and only 50 or so of the concrete slabs still exist.  After a bit of online research, I discovered that we are parked about 20 miles from one of the stations along the Los Angeles to Las Vegas route, so we decided to go find this station.

From the Google Maps satellite view, it looks like the arrow and shack are still there:

So we headed out.  We drove 2.6 miles out on this dirt road that parallels I-15 on the North side.  The dirt road had sections that were so steep that when we reached the top of the rise we couldn’t see down the other side, like the crest of a roller coaster.  On the satellite view, it looked like there may have been a road up the eastern side of the mountain, but we couldn’t find a turnoff, so we continued to the west side of the mountain where we found a “road” we could drive up.  Here’s the view looking back towards the interstate.

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Eventually we were forced to stop by a Joshua Tree that was across the road:

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Since the road was essentially an old wash, and it was raining, I parked the Kia up on the slope in case of flash flooding:

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We walked on towards the ridge between the mesa on the left and the peak on the right:

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Looking back down the “road”, I’m glad we decided to stop where we did:

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Looks like someone didn’t make it:

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When we crested the ridge, we had to work our way around and up to the summit of the mesa.  It’s a volcanic cap, so it was a bit cliff-like, and finding a way up was tricky.  By this time we were in the clouds, and visibility was 100 feet or so, which made our finds at the summit even more spooky.

Sure enough, the operations shack from the 1920s is still standing!  To its right, the pilings for the light tower are visible:

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Behold, the arrow.  It’s about 10 feet long:

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Looking from the operations shack, a concrete walk leads to the tower pilings, with the arrow beyond the pilings:

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Handy Oil!

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You can imagine the shack operator using the microphone on this stand to talk to the pilots passing above:

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We spread out looking for artifacts:

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This station had a secondary red light to indicate that this station did not have a runway.  We found pieces of the red lens element all over the place:

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Looking back down where we came from.  The light colored area entering from the right is our “road”:

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Pretty cacti at the summit:

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Some of the original yellow paint is still visible on the arrow:

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Old beverages:

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The faint path in the foreground is the dirt road we used to get here from the interstate, which is seen here in the background.  The dirt road enters a wash for some distance, and driving there was tricky as the sand was loose and deep:

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We walked down the road that serviced the station.  No doubt it was in better shape 85 years ago:

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Back to the car at last.  It was exciting to discover a forgotten part of American history!

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Here’s the hike portion of our trip:

We carefully drove back to the interstate the way we came.  Here we are back at Sunrise Rock:

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It rained for the rest of the afternoon and into the night.  There’s snow in the forecast for tomorrow!

Day 105: The slog up the Kelso Dunes
Day 107: From the snow to Las Vegas

2 thoughts on “Day 106: Giant arrows in the desert

  1. Pingback: Day 200: Giant Arrow for our Milestone | Look Before You Live!

  2. Pingback: Day 938: Airway Beacon Museum, El Malpais NM and NCA | Look Before You Live!

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