What are those huge concrete arrows pointing the way across America?

On Saturday, we got a musical arrow to the heart courtesy of Lake Street Dive, but what about those gigantic concrete arrows pointing the way across America? Do those things really exist? What are they doing out there, and what purpose do they serve?

Well, as this photo and article posted by Ken Jennings at The Daily Traveler demonstrates, they do exists, and it turns out that they have a strong connection to China’s Wings.

concrete arrow copy

Turns out they served an important purpose in the 1920s, guiding the frail little biplanes of the fledgling U.S. Airmail service across the country, and that Ernie Allison, chief pilot and operations manager of the China National Aviation Corporation during the 1930s and late 1940s, was one of the pilots using those concrete arrows to find his way across the United States.

Allie was one of the Airmail Service’s original pilots, and he had mind-boggling adventures flying the mail, pony express style, before he went to China in 1929, experiences ably described in chapters 5-8 of Nancy Allison Wright’s book about her father, Yankee on the Yangtze

Here’s one of Nancy’s stories posted at AirMailPioneers.org, an interesting site.

This article at BonnevilleMariner.com describes the concrete arrows and light towers that once pointed the way across America. Apparently, one of the rotating one-millionĀ  candlepower beacons that stood next to the concrete arrows is in the Smithsonian.

Since the route went from New York to San Francisco, one or two of these arrows must have been relatively close to my house in Walnut Creek, CA. Does anybody know if the arrows in the Central Valley between SF and Sacramento still exist, and if so, where they’re located? I’d like to check one out.

China's Wings



  1. Not sure if you’ve already found your answer or not since this was posted a while ago but up on Alcalanes Ridge there is a double arrow. It’s a special one since it’s helping guide the direction of two routes. The SF to Chicago and LA to Seattle. If you Google “Walnut Creek airmail arrows” the exact locat ion should be easy to find. There are many sites and forum of aviation enthusiasts and other who just find it fascinating (like me) that have posted exactly where to go. Plus you get a killer view of Mt Diablo and the 680/24 interchange from up there. Totally worth the trek. Ci

    1. Fabulous, Cindy! Nobody had brought those to my attention, but since I live at the corner of Emerald Drive and Corona Place, I could certainly WALK to the site. Is it on the ridge directly above downtown and the 680/24 interchange or on the ridge between the Quail Ridge development and Acalanes High school?

      1. Glad I could help! And wow we live in a small (even though it’s big) place!! I live off Encanto!! Just the street over from you!!

        I went just over the weekend and parked on Oakvue Rd and took the little trail (you can see it on Google) up the hill and then to the right. Go a bit then keep to the right to go up a slope and it’s right on top of there. There’s even a bench up there.

    2. Okay, found it on Google Earth. It’s about a mile from my house, if that. Amazing. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. GC

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