Former GJ resident figures in arch measurement
When former Grand Junction resident Craig Shelley set out in 2006 to help measure the Kolob Arch in Utah, nobody paid it much mind.
Three years later, the efforts of Shelley and the Natural Arch and Bridge Society, a Glade Park organization, are making national headlines. The fuss broke on Monday: Landscape Arch in Arches National Park spans 290 feet — 3 feet longer than Kolob Arch in Zion National Park.
Landscape Arch was confirmed as having the world’s longest natural span.
“We wanted to drop in there using a helicopter, but the parks people weren’t going for that,” Shelley laughed. “It’s nice to see our work get some recognition,”
Shelley was involved only in the measurement of Kolob Arch.
Shelley, 56, and his wife, Elaine, moved to Highland, Utah, in March after 21 years in Grand Junction. A retired chemist and outdoors enthusiast, Shelley launched a software company in Grand Junction that he ended up selling in 2006.
In October that year, he took three days with a group of volunteers to hike in and out of Kolob Arch.
“It’s certainly the highlight of my arch activities,” Shelley said.
Landscape and Kolob had for years been mentioned in the same breath when it came to discussing the world’s biggest sandstone arches, which form when softer rock in the middle erodes to leave behind an arch of harder rock.
Shortly after the Natural Arch and Bridge Society formed in 1988, talk turned to how to best size up the arches in a definitive, standardized way.
It took years for members to agree on a complex mathematical definition. The laymen’s version emerged as “the maximum horizontal extent of the opening,” said Jay Wilbur, of Austin, Texas, a founder and current vice president of the group.
They started in 2004, first just looking for updated measurements of some of the most well-known arches, including Landscape, Kolob and Rainbow Bridge, which also is in Utah.
Eventually they turned their lasers and other measuring equipment to arches in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
Some of the previous measurements were fairly close. Some were off 30 to 40 feet, Wilbur said.
“We have a lot of technology available today that wasn’t available in the 1980s,” Wilbur said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.