Arch Etiquette and Naming Arches

Nearly every day there are new arches being documented in Kentucky.  Ninety nine times out of one hundred when someone ‘discovers’ an arch someone else has ‘discovered’ it before them. This is commonly referred to as Christopher Columbus Syndrome.  In the 1900’s, it just was not important to those who stumbled across them to care to document them.  In some cases they were documented and the information was lost over the decades.  Interestingly enough, the latter appears to be more common than one would imagine.  Lost data after a death is a sad and unfortunate truth. Our hope is to someday secure as much data from arch hunters to preserve it for generations to come.

Rainbow Rock

© Dustin Robinson

There is some etiquette when it comes to naming arches. Many folks when they find an arch immediately have an urge to name it after someone they love or something of value to them. Others name them something that has nothing to do with anything, so folks can not figure out where it is located. Some name the arch after what it looks like or its features. Naming conventions for natural features, including arches, are to not name them after the living. Typically when naming an arch we refer to what is close by; such as a named ridge, watershed, road, town, former owner of the land, something historic nearby, or what it looks like. Prior to the last few years there was not a statewide database to keep things straight, so there are many instances of arches being named several times by those that come across it.  Take for instance Rainbow Rock in Rockcastle County which has the most names in the database, with five. When this happens, normally it begins on the local level where multiple folks are each calling an arch something different and eventually one name sticks more than the others. There are also instances where someone personally documents an arch, but does not share the information with others.  Then someone else comes along and documents it, naming it something different, not knowing it was previously named. In a recent conversation with Victor Fife, who has documented over 1000 arches in Kentucky and Tennessee, several of his documentations have been renamed in Mammoth Cave National Park.  His response to that was, “That is just the way things go.”  The National Park Service now has his data and is going to use his names for the arches in the park. One other thing to mention are the alternative numbered names added to many of Kentucky’s larger and known arches back in the 1990’s during the work on the Journal Of Natural Arch Discoveries. A large percentage of which was the work of Chris Moore and John Burns.  There are 155 numbered arches in Kentucky that all feature a KY in front of that number.  Take for instance Koger Arch in McCreary County, which is also called KY-54.  The arches of the Red River Gorge have a different numbered designation from those journals.  These have an RR then a number up to 36. For example, Grays Arch is RR-27. Of all the numbered arches there was only one that the location was not known until early 2023, KY-126 in McCreary County.  Documented by Nicholus Terzakis, this arch had vague directions to it.  Joey Fritz and Mandy Ownes recently relocated it.  How cool is that?  Altogether there are currently 350 arches in the database that have two or more names.