HISTORY OF THE NATURAL ARCH AND BRIDGE SOCIETY
See also: Newspaper article about the current NABS President, Larry Beck
The Natural Arch and Bridge Society came into being primarily through the efforts of two founding members who initially approached the task separately and later combined their efforts. Jay H. Wilbur, an arch enthusiast and aerospace engineer who was at the time residing in Colorado Springs, CO, sent out a letter of interest on January 20, 1988, to a list of people he had received from Ed McCarrick, a ranger at Arches National Park. In his letter, Jay expressed his long-time interest in natural arches and in forming an association of fellow arch enthusiasts. He requested information from the recipients regarding the extent of their interest and a referral to others who might be interested in such an organization.
Another letter of interest was independently sent out on March 15, 1988 by Danny Horowitz, a geologist and arch enthusiast who was residing in Houston, TX. In his letter, Danny discussed his desire to form “a society of natural arch and bridge lovers” and volunteered to get such an organization started. Danny had received a list of interested parties from arch researcher Robert H. Vreeland. The list was compiled from people who had written to Vreeland in response to a series of books that Vreeland had self-published called Nature's Bridges and Arches.
One of the founding members of NABS, John Burns, had been corresponding with Vreeland since 1980. He received the following in a letter from Vreeland in December, 1987: “Three of my book customers have suggested the formation of a loose association of natural arch and bridge lovers. In their suggestion all three mentioned a regular newsletter in which experiences are shared, new arches announced, and road conditions updated. New information could be distributed in the newsletters. Problem areas could be discussed, etc. Would you give me persmission to give your name and address to one of them? The reason I brought this up is because I will soon be 71 years old — too old to be hiking alone in the boondocks. Although I am presently working on Volumes 4, 17, and 23, Volume 19 may be the last book I publish. An organization could keep my work going.”
It was serendipitous that these two individuals (Jay and Danny) had the same idea of forming the Natural Arch and Bridge Society at the same time! Both letters are included here as Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2 [PDF files]. A photo of Danny and Jay taken at an early NABS convention is on the right.
Jay sent out a follow-up letter on March 20, 1988, informing his contacts that the response to his initial letter had been enthusiastically supportive of forming an organization. He estimated that the initial membership might reach 40 people spread around the country. Because of this good response, Jay volunteered to publish the first issue of a newsletter and requested articles be submitted on various arch-related topics. This follow-up letter by Jay is Exhibit 3 [PDF].
On April 18, 1988, Danny sent out his follow-up letter which mentioned that Jay had received his first letter so they had decided to merge their lists and pool their efforts in forming the new organization. He mentioned Jay's experience as a technical editor and that Jay had volunteered to publish the first newsletter that August. He also listed the names of seven people who had planned summer arch-hunting vacations so new members could team up with them. These individuals were Bob Vreeland, Harold Honsbehn, John Burns, Nicholus Terzakis, Terry Cain, John Weiler, and Danny Horowitz.
Danny also said that he and Jay would absorb costs during the start-up phase, but that dues might be necessary later on. The poll of prospective members revealed general agreement that the purpose of the society would be to maintain a membership list, to print an occasional newsletter, to assist Bob Vreeland with his publications, to arrange field trips, and to lobby for the protection of arches. Some individuals expressed a willingness to help set up a computer fact file on arches. Some suggested having a convention and Danny thought this was a good idea, possibly in Moab, Utah, in 1990. This letter is Exhibit 4 [PDF].
Jay Wilbur published the first issue of SPAN in August 1988. It became our regular newsletter, and Jay continued in the role of editor and publisher for the next six years. The first four issues, available here as PDF files, chronicle the early days of the Society.
SPAN Volume 1 Number 1, August 1988 [PDF]. The inaugural issue, which Jay described as a “labor of love,” included an article by Danny Horowitz about his vision for development of the society, stating specific goals and objectives and suggesting that there be a general convention in 1990 to adopt bylaws and form a non-profit organization. A list of about 30 potential names for the society, which had been received in response to a questionnaire in Danny's earlier letter, was presented along with a request for readers to vote for their favorites. In addition, Bob Vreeland provided a list of arch-hunting challenges — arches he had heard about but not yet been able to find. Ed McCarrick and Dale Stevens discussed their new book, The Arches of Arches National Park, and Robert Moore described the pleasure of discovering a new arch. Nicholus Terzakis provided some updates to the information in some of Bob Vreeland's arch books. Finally, Jay Wilbur shared information on the recent discovery and measurements of Snake Bridge in New Mexico, then listed as the 9th longest known natural span in the world.
The next communication came in the form of a letter from Danny Horowitz in January 1989. He described a meeting held in Austin with Danny, Jay Wilbur, Bob Keniston, and John Burns, to initiate the process of incorporating the non-profit organization. He announced the winning name for the organization — the Natural Arch and Bridge Society (NABS). This letter is Exhibit 5 [PDF].
Interestingly, Danny’s letter also announced a plan to conduct a NABS field trip to difficult-to-reach Clara Bernheimer Natural Bridge. This was not actually accomplished until November 1992, when four NABS Directors (Diane Bingham, Bob Moore, Jay Wilbur, and David Brandt-Erichsen) reached the arch via a new route (photo on right shows them at the plaque at the base of the arch). Thirty-one NABS members followed suit in May 1993.
SPAN Volume 1 Number 2, April 1989 [PDF]. The second issue of SPAN announced the official incorporation of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society as a non-profit organization in the state of Colorado, and asked for feedback about a proposed first NABS Convention in 1990. It also advised that the first Executive Committee had been formed consisting of President Danny Horowitz (Houston, TX), Secretary/Treasurer Jay Wilbur (Colorado Springs, CO), and Directors Terry Cain (Lincoln, NE), Robert Moore (Phoenix, AZ), and Joseph Rockey (Highwood, IL). Jay Wilbur provided an editorial about the need for a word that referred to the study of natural arches and bridges, and suggested gephyrology (pronounced “jeff-er-ology”) after the Greek root gephyra (meaning “bridge” or “earthen dam”), but the idea never seemed to catch on, even within NABS. And — oh, yes — the issue contained a lot of information-swapping about natural arches.
SPAN Volume 1 Number 3, July 1989 [PDF]. The third issue of SPAN mentioned that the Executive Committee had met for the first time, via teleconference, and approved membership dues at $5.00 per year. The Committee also decided to hold the first NABS Convention and General Membership Meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado on the first weekend in May 1990. A field trip into Rattlesnake Canyon was scheduled to be led by NABS member Bob Sherrill, with additional field trips in the Grand Junction and Moab areas to be coordinated by Bob Keniston. The issue also contained a detailed article by Bob Vreeland about the history of Clara Bernheimer Natural Bridge.
At about this same time, Jay designed an inexpensive but nicely informative tri-fold brochure that could be mailed out to prospective members, handed out at meetings, or placed in information centers. This brochure is Exhibit 6 [2 MB PDF]. We don't have any statistics on how many members this brochure brought in, but we do know that it brought in at least one particularly active member: David Brandt-Erichsen.
David Brandt-Erichsen had fallen in love with Utah's canyon country and later developed a focus on arches from F. A. Barnes’ 1988 book Canyon Country Arches and Bridges. In 1991 he led a group of hikers from the Southern Arizona Hiking Club for a week in the Moab area, where they viewed 65 arches and “bagged” (i.e. got inside or on top of) 35 of them, and he never had more fun in his life. He ran across the NABS brochure in the Moab Visitor Center. NABS fit him like a glove, and he later became SPAN editor for seven years, webmaster of the NABS website for even longer, and organizer of several NABS outings. He would always say: “An arch as a goal at the end of a hike is the frosting on a very good cake, and looking for arches always takes you to beautiful places you might never have thought to go to otherwise.”
SPAN Volume 2 Number 1, October 1989 [PDF]. The fourth issue of SPAN outlined the agenda for the May 1990 Convention in Grand Junction and announced that NABS was planning to form an arch documentation Standards and Definitions Working Group during the convention. And — oh, yes — the issue also had several articles about natural arches.
First Convention — one of many wonderful times
The first NABS Convention began in Grand Junction, CO, on Saturday May 5, 1990, lasted five days and was a smashing success, with just shy of half the membership attending. The group's trip into Rattlesnake Canyon on Saturday was mentioned on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (the article itself was on the front page of the paper's B Section — with a nice color photo). NABS President Danny Horowitz was quoted as saying “Some people enjoy coins. Our fascination gravitates toward natural arches. And hey, it gets you off your duff and out into nature.” This article is Exhibit 7 [0.8 MB PDF]. Additional coverage included a story on the Denver Channel 9 Sunday evening newscast.
The Executive Committee met via teleconference in September 1990, selecting Grand Junction, Colorado again for the 1991 Convention and St. George, Utah for the 1992 Convention. The Society has sponsored from one to three conventions/rallies/trips each year ever since (see list below).
The highlights of these many “arch gatherings” have been reported in SPAN throughout the years. One highlight paticularly stands out from the May 1994 Canyonlands Convention, during a trip to Angel Arch (this was before 4WD access to the arch was closed off). While at the arch, NABS member Norm Self proposed to Linda Friedrich (photo at left). She said yes. (We have more to say about Norm below).
Some Major Losses
In December 1991 NABS member Ed McCarrick, who was very active in our Standards and Definitions Working Group, was diagnosed with lung cancer and retired from the group. He had been a seasonal ranger with Arches National Park and had helped document over 1800 arches there. In February 1992, NABS joined with Arches National Park to honor Ed at a ceremony in the visitor center. NABS member Diane Bingham designed a beautiful commemorative plaque with a bas-relief of Ed that was placed on display in the visitor center. Ed subsequently passed away in March, 1992.
In May, 1992 at the NABS convention in St. George, Utah, a commemorative plaque was presented to Robert Vreeland by the NABS Executive Committee in appreciation of his lifelong pioneering contributions to the study of arches throughout the world. Vreeland eventually passed away in May, 2005 (see July 2005 SPAN article). Vreeland Arch, named after Bob, is located in the remote Hunt's Mesa area of Monument Valley.
Also during the St. George convention, founding President Danny Horowitz announced that he would not run for the office again, but that he would stay active in NABS as chairperson of the Standards and Definitions Working Group. Eventually, Danny became ill with cancer and passed away in August 2002. The NABS Executive Committee voted to petition the USGS Board of Geographic Names to name the arch listed in the Vreeland catalog as number 17-24 (located in southern New Mexico) as Horowitz Arch. The BGN eventually listed the arch's official name as simply “Natural Bridge” but with a variant name of “Horowitz Arch.” This was implemented in the official Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), so the only meaningful name associated with the arch is “Horowitz Arch.” More information about Danny Horowitz can be found in Jay Wilbur’s article about Danny in the October, 2002 issue of SPAN.
In 1994 NABS President Diane Bingham had the idea of a Natural Arch and Bridge Day, so she contacted Utah Governor Micheal Leavitt and got a favorable response to the idea. In 1995 NABS President Dale Stevens brought the idea to fruition by drafting a declaration and getting Governor Leavitt's commitment to designate the anniversary of the discovery of Rainbow Bridge as a day to recognize the important contribution arches have made to the history of Utah. Support was also obtained from the staffs of Arches National Park and Natural Bridges National Monument. The following year the governor signed the declaration making August 14, 1996, Natural Arch and Bridge Day in Utah. The photo on right shows Governor Leavitt signing the declaration while then-NABS President Jay Wilbur (left) looks on. NABS member Dick Wunder was also in attendance. A copy of the declaration is Exhibit 8 [0.5 MB PDF]. On the same day, Natural Bridges National Monument opened a new display room providing information on how natural bridges form, with NABS listed as a contributing partner in developing the new displays.
The Evolution of SPAN
Our newsletter, SPAN — like everything else in the Society — has always been a 100% volunteer effort on a shoestring budget. Our first editor, Jay Wilbur (the most knowledgeable of our several editors), used Microsoft Word and a copy machine. Our second editor, David Brandt-Erichsen, used WordPerfect and a copy machine. This took us up to the end of 2001.
Then along came Norm Self, who managed a print shop in El Centro, California. Norm had been a NABS member since 1991 and felt that he had gotten so much out of NABS that he wanted to give something back. One thing he wanted to give was better-quality reproduction for SPAN, especially the photos. So he offered to do the layout using professional publishing software (Quark) as well as get us super-cut-rate high-quality offset printing. This freed up the new editor (Tom Van Bebber, and later Donnie Neiswinger) to do only the editing without also needing to do the layout and mailing. Norm became our official SPAN Publisher. The physical quality of SPAN took a great leap forward beginning in 2002.
The physical quality of SPAN took another leap forward in 2010 when Jay Wilbur re-assumed the editing role. Norm’s layout skills (at which he had never been professional) had gradually improved, and Jay and Norm together developed a spiffy magazine-style layout with full-bleed covers. The layouts were produced in color for electronic distribution to the membershp, but were still printed in black-and-white, as color printing was beyond the reach of Society finances.
The “final” leap forward in SPAN quality occurred in July 2012, when the first full-color print issue of SPAN (illustrated above left) was reproduced using an online color digital printing service and mailed to the members, and at less cost than our previous system. It was a dream come true for the small group of dedicated volunteers that made it happen. Norm subsequently re-formatted all issues from 2002 in full color and these are now available on the web.
Besides the aforementioned Robert H. Vreeland, some members who have made major contribution to NABS are known for their publishing activities outside of NABS.
NABS is based in the United States but is international in scope and we would very much like to expand our international participation. Although we have relatively few members outside the U.S., some of them are very active:
It seems like every person who takes on the job of SPAN editor has the same fear: running out of material. However, it never happens, and there is as yet no end in sight. There seem to always be new arches to report and new aspects of the subject to examine. And there are always new NABS members who want to find out about arches and visit them, and so far we haven't run out of people volunteering to help them do that. This is probably because the whole thing is so darned much fun.
The principal authors of the NABS History page, Larry Beck and David Brandt-Erichsen, would like to thank all the individuals who contributed information and data during the research efforts in documenting the history of the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, especially Richard (Dick) Wunder, Nicholus (Nick) Terzakis, Jay Wilbur, and John Burns.
“Happy arch hunting, and may all your rainbows turn to stone!” — Danny Horowitz