Washington County points the way from Salt Lake to L.A., 1920s navigational cement arrows

Aerial view of beacon arrow at Shinob Kibe. Plane flown by Pilot Russ Roberts. Beacon arrows were constructed between 1926-1928 to facilitate aviation navigation from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Washington County, Utah, Sept. 3, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

FEATURE – There has been some buzz on the Internet lately about giant cement arrows scattered across the country. What are they and why are they there? Are they real? Well, this past Tuesday evening retired U.S. Navy Capt. Russ Roberts, member of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter #936 in St. George, accommodated St. George News in an area aerial survey of Washington County, locating navigational arrow beacons.

Mari Yunker enjoys the peaceful views from the Quail Creek Aviation Navigation Arrow. “It is a cool feeling knowing that you are sitting on a piece of aviation history right here in Washington County. Now I want to find all of them here,” she said. Beacon arrows were constructed between 1926-1928 to facilitate aviation navigation from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Washington County, Utah, Aug. 28, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News
Mari Yunker on the Quail Creek Aviation Navigation Arrow. “It is a cool feeling knowing that you are sitting on a piece of aviation history right here in Washington County. Now I want to find all of them here,” she said.  Washington County, Utah, Aug. 28, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

Ninety-three years ago the United States began coast-to-coast airmail service. The problem then was that navigation was quite primitive. Basically, navigation was limited to your eyes scanning Mother Earth for familiar geographical pinpoints. This meant flying at night was difficult if not impossible. Remember, at this point in time, radar was simply an idea. And out west, lights were few and far between.

To solve this problem and expedite airmail delivery, the U.S. Postal Service commissioned the first ground-to-air navigation system. Approximately every 10 miles, giant concrete arrows were poured and painted bright yellow.

To further aid in navigation, a 1 million-candle power lamp was affixed to a 51-foot tall tower. On top of the tower was rotating beacon and a light reflecting on the yellow arrow. Flying at night became as easy as flowing the glowing Yellow Brick Road.

The first leg of the navigation roadmap stretched from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Cleveland, Ohio, and was completed in 1924. By 1929, the transcontinental aviation navigation system connected New York to San Francisco.

While east-to-west navigation was under construction, so was north-to-south navigation. By the mid-1920s the new aeronautics branch of the Department of Commerce suggested that Salt Lake City and Los Angeles become connected. CAM-4, or Contract Air Mail Route No. 4, began delivering mail in the spring of 1926 via a Douglas M-2 airplane. Construction was completed by 1928.

Three arrows still exist in Washington County, Utah. One arrow (37-A) is on the bluff overlooking Bloomington from the north. Another arrow (37-B) is on the Shinob Kibe bluff and the last one (37-C) is on the bluff on the west side of Quail Creek Reservoir.

Memorial marker placed by the Sons of Utah Pioneers at beacon arrow on the Bloomington bluff in St. George. Arrows were constructed between 1926-1928 to facilitate aviation navigation from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News
Memorial marker placed by the Sons of Utah Pioneers at beacon arrow on the Bloomington bluff in St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

Beacons 38 and 39 are in the Leeds area, 39-B somewhere around Pintura and 40-A in the Black Ridge area have apparently not been located, according to records of the Washington County Historical Society.

The Bloomington site is marked with a granite marker dedicated on May 23, 2007, by The Sons of Utah Pioneers. Included in the inscription on the marker is: “The first regularly scheduled overland passenger flight in the USA was made by Western Air Express on May 23rd, 1926, from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.”

Getting to the Quail Creek arrow is a little more work than getting to the Bloomington arrow. It is about a one half-mile hike heading east from old Highway 91 where the blacktop ends. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the view from the bluff of Quail Creek. And please pack out any trash you may see.

The Shinob Kibe arrow is work to get to since it is on top of the highest bluff in Washington. The climb is not technical, but there is a fair amount of scrambling required. As with any historical artifact, visitors to the site are encouraged to preserve these arrows and not deface them.

These early forms of aviation navigation still dot the countryside long after the towers were salvaged for the WWII effort. We are fortunate to have several of these arrows right here in our back yard, pieces of concrete history that ought be more than a curiosity occasionally stumbled upon.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

 

Email: news@stgnews.com

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Aerial view of beacon arrow at Shinob Kibe. Plane flown by Pilot Russ Roberts. Beacon arrows were constructed between 1926-1928 to facilitate aviation navigation from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Washington County, Utah, Sept. 3, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News
Aerial view of beacon arrow at Shinob Kibe. Plane flown by Pilot Russ Roberts. Beacon arrows were constructed between 1926-1928 to facilitate aviation navigation from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Washington County, Utah, Sept. 3, 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

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