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Directional Arrow | by Clay Fraser
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Directional Arrow

Airport at Medicine Bow, Wyoming

Nikon D700 camera; Nikkor 14-24mm lens

Aviation in Wyoming during the 1910s amounted to little more than exhibition flights and air races staged by barnstorming pilots. This changed in 1920, when the post office announced plans to extend air mail delivery across the country from Chicago to San Francisco. Like the first transcontinental railroad, the transcontinental air mail traversed the West on a single east-west line. And like the transcontiental railroad, the air mail route crossed southern Wyoming in lieu of more populous Colorado, because the early airplanes couldn't negotiate altitudes above 10,000 feet. Cross-country air mail service began that September. The planes were army war surplus from World War I, the pilots former army flyers, and the airports were simple flat fields without actual runways. Navigation at first was rudimentary, comprised solely of the pilots' observations of ground features along the route. This 35-foot-long concrete arrow at a small airfield in southern Wyoming was used to point the way to the next airfield along the way. I photographed it while hanging from a steel beacon tower (not smart, I realize). Located at the southern periphery of the town of Medicine Bow, this is one of the last intact facilities along the first transcontinental air route. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Taken on September 25, 2012