Scattered across the United States is a network of mysterious concrete arrows. They are often found in remote locations or areas difficult to access. Some will be accompanied by a small shack, a few have a metal tower affixed to their base. Many are in good condition while others have succumbed to nature. The shape and direction of the arrows vary, but it is clear they served the same purpose.
The purpose was important: helping early pilots navigate U.S. transcontinental flights at night.
In a era before radar, pilots used ground-based landmarks for guidance. This solution worked for flight during the day, but grounded pilots at night. Before long, a system of beacons was established across the United States to guide airmail pilots around-the-clock. When radar and radio communications made the beacons obsolete years later, most were torn down and abandoned.
Tales of gold rushes and silver booms are often recounted from a nostalgic perspective, driven by tall tales of adventures into the lawless Wild West. Perhaps less sentimental is the story of copper, a metal with less value but more significance to the growth of infrastructure. Copper was a major component of industrialization and essential for everything from electrifying the world to fortifying nations during war.
Few mining operations could match the lifetime output of the Anaconda Copper Mine in Butte, Montana. For nearly a century, mining in Butte Valley sacrificed the earth to build and defend America. Today the legacy of Anaconda’s enterprise is the Berkeley Pit, a large open pit mine collecting billions of gallons of toxic groundwater.
Forty miles east of Jakarta, a river over 186 miles (300km) long winds across the island of Java. For thousands of years the Citarum River has been an important resource for the Indonesian people. Today it continues to support fishing, agriculture, electricity generation, and sewerage for nearly 30 million residents.
When Indonesia experienced a manufacturing boom, little attention was paid to key components of infrastructure. Proper framework for waste disposal was largely neglected. As a result, manufacturers and residents abused the river, leaving the Citarum one of the most polluted waterways in the world.
The Afar Region of Africa, named for the people who call it home, encompasses Djibouti, Eritrea, and the northeast corner of Ethiopia. A notable trait of the Afar Triangle is the Danakil Depression, the lowest point in Africa. The territory is one of the hottest on the planet, and features everything from earthquakes and volcanoes to geysers and salt canyons. It is also home to Dallol, a remote mining camp accessible by camel.
The now-abandoned town of Dallol was once a busy site, mining potash, sylvite, and salt during various times throughout its history. When U.S. mining companies were conducting geological surveys in the early 1960s, they recorded the hottest average temperature for an inhabited location on Earth.
Across the bay from Galveston in Texas is Texas City, a busy port with convenient access to Houston and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to shipping, the city plays an important role in the production and refining of petroleum products. As a port with deep water access to the coast, Texas City hosts international shippers hauling everything from electronics to fertilizer.
The town made headlines in 1947 when a fire on a cargo ship reached the explosive payload and detonated. The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in U.S. history, and the disaster would claim the lives of nearly six hundred people. Read more…
Turkmenistan is seventy percent desert – the Karakum Desert, to be exact. The nation is divided into five provinces, the second largest being the Ahal Welayat which occupies the south-central portion of the country. Ahal is almost entirely desert and contains just fourteen percent of the country’s population, but it is also rich in natural resource deposits.
When Soviet scientists discovered a cache of oil reserves near the town of Derweze in the Karakum Desert, drilling quickly commenced. When a drilling rig collapsed and created a crater, large amounts of methane were released. When the oilmen attempted to burn off the methane, it started a fire that still burns over forty years later. Read more…