I-Team: Mystery Arrows Dot Remote Nevada Landscape - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Mystery Arrows Dot Remote Nevada Landscape

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Dozens of concrete arrows can be found in Nevada. Dozens of concrete arrows can be found in Nevada.
U.S. Mail air service. U.S. Mail air service.
Mail was delivered by plane to communities. Mail was delivered by plane to communities.
Nationwide map of mail routes. Nationwide map of mail routes.

LAS VEGAS -- The vast deserts of the American West are home to numerous myths and mysteries, including relics left behind by long-forgotten people. When the I-Team heard about some oddly-shaped structures found in remote and inhospitable spots of the state, they investigated.

The mystery arrows came to the attention of the I-Team several months ago. It is immediately obvious that whoever made the arrows meant for them to be seen from the sky, a conclusion that raises all sorts of exotic questions.

Even from the vantage point of a helicopter, it's not easy to pick out the odd shape that sits on the desert floor on the north side of Mormon Mesa, but it is a concrete arrow. It's not a shape that occurs in nature, it was seemingly created for the benefit of sky people, not unlike the famed Nazca lines of Peru or maybe exotic agri-glyphs that appear in crop fields.

Mystified hikers or backpackers occasionally stumble across one of the arrows in remote locations in the West and wonder if they are they turn signals for the planet or directions to some mythical place, like Oz?

"I didn't really have an idea what they were about or anything," said Dave Valentine, a former Bureau of Land Management archeologist.

Map of Mystery Arrows in Nevada and Other States

He first investigated the arrows years ago while working in Nevada as an archeologist for the BLM. He learned the arrows once stretched all the way across the country, including a line of arrows that slices through northern Nevada, parallel to what is now Interstate 80.

There's another one, found just this week by the I-Team, on a hilltop near Sloan Canyon, not far from Las Vegas Boulevard. It turns out, they were made to be seen by sky people, specifically by the daring pilots who made up the first transcontinental airmail program.

"They didn't have good compasses. They didn't have good barometers. They didn't have good maps. It was all just barnstorming type flying, so they would fly along railroad tracks until it got dark," Valentine said.

In the years after WW1, America found itself with a surplus of airplanes, and daredevil pilots. The initial airmail program was fraught with peril for the flyers whose only navigational tool was their eyes. Like their predecessors in the Pony Express, some of these aerial postmen got lost or killed while carrying mail. And when the sun went down, so did their planes.

"It was extremely dangerous. They were beautiful pilots, those guys, and some of them were killed," former WWII pilot Dr. Creed Evans told KUTV in Salt Lake City, Utah.

It sounds strange now, but in that bygone era, Congress used to pass legislation. It approved funding for a nationwide network of arrows and beacons along the major airmail routes. The arrows outside of St. George, Utah were placed every 10 miles, literally pointing the way so airmail pilots -- and later, passenger pilots -- could pick their way across the country.

"There were thousands of them, pretty sure there were over 400 arrows, beacons I should say," Valentine said.

Not all of the beacons had an arrow, but most of the arrows had a beacon, he added. The postal service took cues from the U.S. Coast Guard's lighthouse program. Typically, a metal tower 50 feet high was built in the middle of the arrow slabs. Atop each one was a light, gas lamps at first, and later electric beacons. Historian Mark Hall Patton keeps the last beacon to be operative -- the one from Mormon Mesa -- at the Clark County Museum and says the crude navigational system was vital to the development of commercial aviation and the first red eye flights.

"Using the beacons was one way you could fly at night, which mean you could fly further, fly all the time. It meant air mail was delivered that much faster, commercial air travel was faster. It made commercial air traffic possible in the U.S.," Patton said.

Most of the arrows that remain are located in the West with their photos plastered over the Internet. Most of the towers were nearly all removed in WWII for their scrap metal value, but at least one has been restored to its original condition. It's in New Mexico. A few more live on in other guises.

"I actually found one at a guy's ranch in Clover Valley south of Wells," Valentine said. "He saw it being advertised, bought it, went back to his ranch and set it up, and it's his TV antenna. He probably even gets channel 8."

So, at least, its being used for something worthwhile.

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