Desert Arrows

In the remote wastes of America’s deserts, you may run into something strange: a concrete pad in the shape of an arrow.

Hundreds of these mysterious arrows stretch all across America.

Desert arrow

What are these desert arrows doing out there and what are they pointing at?

Could they be for calibrating spy satellites like the mysterious desert “X”’s?

America’s Highway of Light

The arrows were originally made to guide airplanes across America’s vast and unsettled frontier.

These arrows were often paired with lighthouse like towers that illuminated the arrows for aerial viewing.

air mail beacon

An air mail beacon that has survived intact.

This all came out of a 1922 mandate that the United States Postal service deliver mail by plane. Up until this point, no one thought there was a reliable way to navigate an airplane at night.

At the time, 1 in 10 US mail pilots flying at night died.

The Air Beacon System

Pilots had been using railroad tracks to navigate, but that made trips longer than they needed to be, and could only be tracked in full day or moonlight.

The plane dedicated arrows allowed planes to cut an 83-hour trip from New York to San Francisco down to just 33 hours.

highway of light map

More than Just Directions

The air beacons acted as more than just simple arrows pointing west; many indicated emergency landing fields or the location of destinations in between San Francisco and New York.

By the end of the highway’s construction, 1,550 beacons stretched across 18,000 miles of America.

Disuse and Disrepair

Unfortunately, by the time the highway of light was completed, non-visual navigation aids like radio had made the towers obsolete.

Many of the structures have been torn down or destroyed, but hundreds of arrows remain to mystify hikers and Google Earth enthusiasts.