It's very possible that a person may have driven past a giant arrow to the side of the road and not even noticed it. Or, perhaps, they've flown over an expansive desert landscape in the U.S. and haven't even realized that just below, there was a giant arrow pointing in the opposite direction. However one might come across these unusual, not-so-subtle directions, there is one thing that's for sure: They'd be pretty hard to miss.

At one point, America's giant arrows were a life-saving measure, put in place to help guide the ways of those whose job it was to travel on a daily basis. Today, they've since (mostly) fallen into disuse but for some reason, many of them have never been disposed of.


So, do America's giant arrows still exist across the country, and, if so, where can we find them? Let's find out.

The History & Purpose Behind America's Giant Arrows

The U.S. mail system didn't always function as it does today. From the 1920s on through the following decade, there were no fancy GPS systems that would guide a mailman's truck or, in this case, army warplanes that were leftover from WWI. It was the job of these pilots to get mail to where it needed to be; however, that proved fairly challenging without the help of an efficient directional system. By now, one can probably see where this was headed - but it wasn't as simple as installing a few arrows. The country was in need of a full mapping system and, thus, the idea of the giant concrete arrows was born in 1924.

The U.S. government commissioned this project with the intention of constructing concrete arrows every 10 miles along the most traveled mail routes. The sheer size of these would large enough that pilots could see them in inclement weather and with minimal effort, therefore ensuring that they were going in the right direction. Just to be sure, though, each arrow was painted a bold yellow and positioned next to 50-foot, gas-powered lights that rotated, similar to lighthouse beacons.

  • Fun Fact: It's said that these airway lighthouses were able to be seen up to ten miles away.

While the gas-powered lights have since been taken down, those interested can see one that has been fully restored at the New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum Site (which also has its own concrete arrow!)

While many people presume that the arrows were put in place by the U.S. Postal Service, this would actually be inaccurate. The Air Traffic Control Association produced the arrows between 1926 and 1931, following the Department of Commerce taking over the airways, according to CNN. The beacons themselves were placed roughly every 25 miles to create a full path of light, thus guiding pilots who would be taking on an otherwise risky, somewhat directionally-challenging, job. These beacons were officially decommissioned during the 1970s.

Related: Abandoned Highways: Are These The New Extreme Tourism Spots?

So, Where Can You Find Arrows Now?

The answer to this lies in America's more rural locations, and in the efforts of two people: Brian and Charlotte Smith, of California. With photography and a love for quirky history as a driving force, the two have created the site Arrows Across America. According to CNN, the couple had encountered the hobby almost by accident after receiving an email about them. This became the catalyst in what became the most in-depth search for America's lost and forgotten arrows, thus bringing to life 126 aerial and ground-level photos of the unusually large landmarks.

On their site, it's revealed that the arrows, and their gas-powered beacons, were actually called Beacon Stations. While the arrows themselves were painted 'chrome yellow,' they had the job of pointing in the direction of the next boldly-colored beacon station.

Today, photos of the arrows by the Smiths can be found on their site, as well as photos by equally intrigued travelers that have been shared. The Smiths began their journey back in 2013, finding more than one hundred arrows in the process, including painted, metal, and destroyed arrow sites. On the site are the detailed journeys of their pursuit to find America's giant arrows, complete with information about the former airmail routes and a timeline of the giant arrows.

What Is The Fate Of America's Giant Arrows?

Across the U.S., there are many abandoned and historic landmarks that have been forgotten about. It seems that the giant arrows have joined the ranks of them, with many people still unaware of the massive role they once played in America's history. While the hope is that one day these arrows will be preserved as a means of education for future generations, only time will tell if their airmail legacy will continue to grow.

Next: Kutsher's Country Club: Famed In The Catskills, Now Abandoned