September 14, 1949 -
by Susie Patrick
For generations awe inspiring views and massive sandstone arches have drawn tourists and locals alike to marvel at the unique landscape of the Red River Gorge. The Gorge region has a unique claim, it has the second highest concentration of natural arches in the country behind Utah’s Arches National Park. The amazing thing is, no matter what trail you hike or what road you drive, more than likely you are passing a slew of arches nestled in the rhododendrons and cliff lines. One of these folks who has been drawn to the beauty and mystery of this region is arch hunter Bill Patrick who has created a series of 10 DVD’s featuring locations, photos and some documentary of over 1000 arches in the Gorge. Though Bill has always had an interest in rocks, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that he took an interest in arches more seriously. After seeing a sign on Sky Bridge Road stating there were 100’s of arches in the Red River Gorge Bill asked himself, “Hmmm, where are they?” At the time there were only about 20 arch locations publicly shared though literature about the area. That is when he took up Robert Ruchhoff’s book “Kentucky’s Land Of Arches - The Red River Gorge'' and found every arch mentioned within those pages. As Bill continued to hunt he was hearing more and more about folks who had passed away that knew of all these arches within the Gorge. Realizing that these folks' knowledge was being lost, Bill decided to do his first arch publication using a DVD format in hopes that at least one would survive and the work he was doing would not be lost. 20 years ago when he first decided to make a guide to Red River Gorge arches ,things were a bit different. Computers were still expensive and the internet was still in its early stages. Though the cost of publishing a book was within reason, Bill felt there was a shift from learning through reading to learning through video. Everyone had a DVD player and so with that was the birth of Arches Of The Red River Gorge Volume 1. Through the encouragement of forest ranger Don Figg when completing DVD 1, Bill continued to create more volumes of DVD’s. Don and Bill shared a common opinion, they both “believed that arches were to be enjoyed by all and that increased interest would heighten people's concern for them and hence raise public concern for their protection.” Today the number of volumes stands at 10. Will there be an 11th? There’s a very good chance there will be and we will touch base on that cool project in a future post.
If you haven’t nabbed yourself some copies of the DVD’s you should because you are in for a real treat if you enjoy arches or are interested in geology. Each arch gets its own feature often with several photos where Bill discusses something interesting about it. If the arch has a historical past, that is included and each is provided with a location. Many of the arches on the DVD’s have been submitted to Bill by a new generation of arch enthusiasts excited about his project. These enthusiasts are out hunting arches, collecting data and sending the information to him. Then he will head out and confirm these submissions. Amazingly Bill has physically visited all but one arch featured on the DVD’s, which is Challenge Arch. For that one he recruited Josh Broadwell, Tyler Chrisman and Jarrek Voyles to repel into the opening. Though there are not that many, some windows and false arches are also included in the DVD’s. Below are details on where to order the DVD’s and some other cool info.
When did your interest in arches begin?
As far as I can remember I have appreciated rocks, whether they be fossils found in the creek or a cool boulder. My serious quest for finding arches, however, did not begin until the late 1990's.
What was it about arches that sparked that interest?
Aches are an engineering curiosity and many times, a beautiful, artistic sculpture
Were there other arch enthusiasts that influenced you in the beginning?
My first inspiration came from 2 sources; the sign on Sky Bridge Road that said there are more than 100 arches in the Red River Gorge ... to which I asked myself "Where are they?" because the Park and the Forest Service only mentioned about 20 in any available literature. I began by finding all the arches Ruchhoft even mentioned in his book "Kentucky's Land of Arches". When I was nearing completion of the first DVD twenty years ago, I learned of Don Figg. He encouraged me to continue. Like I, he believed that arches were to be enjoyed by all and that increased interest would heighten people's concern for them and hence raise public concern for their protection.
What inspired you to start featuring arches on DVD’s?
Several times in my early exploring people would say to me something like "You should have known so and so." He knew where a lot of arches were in the Gorge. But, he died years ago." I thought how sad it was that the knowledge of those who were here before us was lost. Of course that's true about many things but for me it was particularly true about the local geography and arches. My dad attended Alvin Drew School for grades 7 through 12 but he was a boarding student from "far away" Hargett, Kentucky (Estill County) so I heard a few tales about things in the area. However, in the 1920's and 30's the school kept a tight reign on students so they didn't explore much of what was around them at Pine Ridge. I wanted to publish what I found so that there would at least be enough copies that one would survive. It is probably hard for most visitors to the web to realize, but in the late 90's and early 2000's it was very difficult to find someone who had ever heard of places like Cherokee Arch.
And why did you choose DVD’s as a media format?
This is a simple question but first one has to realize some things about history. Things were quite different in 2000. On August 6, 1991 the Internet became publicly available. Ten years later computers were still very expensive and 300 - 1200 Baud modems on your phone line didn't dump a lot of information on your doorstep. (To explain for you younguns ;-), if you have Gigabit speed on your internet connection, that's 1,000,000,000 Baud). On demand printing didn't exist so if you wanted to publish a book, calculate the cost of setting up printing plates and printing 5000 copies so that the cost of per copy printing was reasonable. But, the world was moving digitally. People were becoming video learners rather than readers. KET had been on the air for 30 years and had actually experimented with using unused bandwidth to distribute internet content. I could produce a DVD on my home computer. Have color photographs and enough of them that you would have views of an arch from different locations' a feature that is still beneficial today when we try to identify an arch from a picture someone sends. Simply, in 2000, everybody had, or was getting, a DVD player and it was the least expensive way to deliver a lot of information.
What made you decide to feature windows and false arches on the DVD’s?
This was not a conscious decision. It evolved from people telling me about an arch that wasn't actually an arch. This allowed a place to distinguish a false arch from a true arch. Also, some of them are neat rock formations. Giant Doorway, for example, was also included in Forest Service information so I presume others felt the same way.
Have you personally visited every arch and landform featured on the DVD’s?
Yes. There is only one exception of one I did not physically get to, Challenge Arch. I recruited Josh Broadwell, Tyler Chrisman and Jarrek Voyles to bring their ropes and make the descent into the arch.
Do you have a favorite arch and if so which?
Delicate Arch - Utah
Moon Hill - Guiling, China
Gorge - it is hard to pick a favorite but of those like Rock Bridge, Sky Bridge, Indian Arch, Short Creek Arch and Adena Arch that are on known trails, Horseshoe Arch would be one of my favorites because of its early formation stage. It has great color in an afternoon sunset and a hidden entrance to the southwest.
Do you have a favorite find?
Maybe Laurel Branch Lost Camp because it was large and totally unexpected.
What’s the scariest thing that has happened to you out in the field?
I really can't think of any. If you are cautious, prepared, always hike with a partner, have backup map/location devices and stay aware and respective of your surroundings there's not much to be afraid of. Fortunately I have never come eye to eye with an unfriendly snake of the venomous kind lol.
Your DVD’s feature arches only in the Red River Gorge region. Why have you not created DVD’s focused on arches outside the Red River Gorge region?
There was always more to document in the RRG than I had time to do.
Larry Peterson held Arch Hunter Weekends for many years. Often yourself, Jeff Vansant and Todd And Victor Fife would join Larry for a weekend of fun. What can you say about these weekends that made them so special?
Todd, Vic, Larry, Jeff and I had a bond developed from a common interest. Other friends, particularly of the Fife's and Larry would frequently join us for one of these weekends but the five of us were the core who were frequently out exploring. Larry would hold an event in the Spring at the RRG. Todd and Vic would host a gathering in the fall, usually in the Big South Fork.
Were there any friendly competitions between the five of you? Such as who could find the most arches or who visited the most arches in a year or anything like that?
There was never any competition. There was just a shared delight in what the others had found.
With the Arch Weekends, were you out visiting recent and documented finds or were you out hunting for new arches?
Arch Weekends were about seeing arches that had been found. Occasionally we would find something in the process but basically it was a field trip to the finds.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Our predecessors hiked and documented arches armed with only memory of the terrain or a map and a compass. Even in my early days of documentation, I was fortunate if my Garmin GPS received signals from three satellites to pinpoint a location on a paper map. With today's cell phone apps with good satellite receivers or cell phone tower triangulation, onboard maps and a host of geopositioning satellites in orbit, it is quite easy to know where you are and to give accurate locations. As a result of the tools of those who preceded us, there are still arches we know about that have yet to be located.
As the only one of the five who ever attempted to collect and make this information about the Gorge available other than Chris Moore, John Burns and the Fife brothers through their contributions to the Journal of Natural Arch Discoveries while Chris was alive and publishing it, I would like to applaud the work of Chris and Bill for their work in trying to compile this data for the state. Compiling is a monumental effort that is basically unrewarded other than the satisfaction of knowing that you made progress in the task.