They are the peculiar concrete markings that have been spotted all across America, prompting hikers and travellers to wonder what on Earth they could mean and where they are pointing to.

But these giant arrows, which can measure up to 70ft in length, are actually a forgotten remnant of a bygone age.

Dotted among scrubland, placed in seemingly random spots, these huge arrows were once markers for early airmail flights across the US - forming the first land-based navigation system in the world.

The concrete arrows were placed at the base of lit beacons near airways, showing pilots the direction they needed to fly in to reach the next stop-off to deliver mail.

Airmail in the US began as early as 1911, with the first official flight departing Petaluma, California, and arriving in Santa Rosa, California. As the flights got longer, with more frequent stop-offs, so the beacons and arrows were placed to help pilots on their way.

Following World War One, the US Postal Service began to use surplus war planes for mail delivery and many were flown by former army pilots.

The giant arrows started to be placed across the country, sometimes at 10-mile intervals, from 1924. Painted bright yellow and placed alongside beacon with a gas light at the top, the idea was that the markers could be seen for a distance of up to 10 miles so pilots could find their way.

In the summer of 1924, they stretched from Wyoming to Ohio and by the following year, the arrows had reached New York. By 1929, the arrows could direct flights all the way across the width of America.

The main New York to San Francisco air route stretched from New York to San Francisco, following the yellow concrete trail.

In the days before radio and satellite communications, the arrows were a way to ensure pilots could find their way, even in poor weather.

While the arrows are now long-forgotten, with many lost forever, there are fans who, having stumbled upon an arrow or two in the countryside, have started mapping those concrete markers that have been left behind.

Retired couple Brian and Charlotte Smith were sent an email which piqued their interest and have been hunting down the arrows ever since.

The email playfully explained: 'Every so often, usually in the vast deserts of the American Southwest, a hiker or a backpacker will run across something puzzling: a large concrete arrow, as much as seventy feet in length, sitting in the middle of scrub-covered nowhere.'

The couple say they have found 102 arrows so far and have set up their website Arrows Across America as part of their photography site dreamsmithphotos.com so fellow fans can share their own pictures and help map where the remaining arrows are.

The Smiths told MailOnline Travel: 'We have located 102 arrows or portions of arrows, some are badly deteriorated and not much is left.

'Our interest grew out of an email circulating in August 2013, we wanted to know where they were, and set out to find them. 

'We have managed to take photos of approximately 40, and have a trip planned this fall to take more photos of some that we were unable to get to last spring. 

'Eventually we hope to have photos of all the arrows that we have located, but time and money will dictate how long that will take us.

'Before our research we knew nothing about airways, beacons or concrete arrows, it has been a marvelous journey of discovery and we cannot believe that all of this has been "forgotten."'.



07/18/2016 9:39pm

The story of these giant arrows is really interesting. Who knew they would be for navigating airways. If I was one of the hikers who have stumbled across the giant arrows, I would also be curious enough to research about it. It is cool how Brian and Charlotte Smith are going out of their way in search of these arrows. It is impressive how they found 102 already.


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