I was one of those fidgety kids, the kind that don’t do particularly well in captivity. Spring days would find me gazing out the window daydreaming about the woods and streams of my native western NY. Then the impact of a wooden ruler across my knuckles or a hard yank on my ear would wake me to the reality of class. Those nuns were strict and mean (and the source of my severe penguin-phobia, which lingers to this day).
Like many kids, dinosaurs fascinated me, as did expeditions of any kind (but best if led by Tarzan). Roy Chapman Andrews soon became my hero with his tales of discovering dinosaurs and their eggs during his amazing expeditions to the Gobi Desert. My youthful days were spent mostly outdoors – exploring with my dog: catching frogs, snakes, and any-thing else that moved; and of course, investigating rocks. A blanket of glacial overburden provided a glimpse into the Pre-cambrian geology of our Canuck neighbors, but better treasures were to be found where streams cut into the lower Paleozoic bedrock – brachiopods, crinoids, trilobites – the next best things to dinosaurs. Little did I know that I would meet many of those same critters some 30 years later in the Devonian section of the Roberts Mountains.
A couple of family cross-country camping trips opened my eyes to the wonders of the west – real mountains, and rocks every-where. I wanted to bring them all home, and tried hard (my dad never forgave me when the cartop carrier broke under the weight of my bootlegged collection). It was decided – I was going to head west, young man, and become a geologist. The decision of which college to attend was almost a difficult one – until I realized that Colorado School of Mines had access to great skiing AND a brewery in town. So it was off to CSM and the torture of engineering classes (alleviated by copious quantities of cold Coors) on the way to earning a degree in
My first geology job came in the summer of 1971 - between my 1st and 2nd senior years (some things are worth repeating?), as part of a plane-table mapping crew (do you youngsters even know what that is?) mapping and sampling classic caldera-related epithermal mineralization at the spectacular Red Mountains between Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. That experience hooked me on exploration. The engineers could keep their slide rulers and trig tables, I was off to explore the mountains and deserts.
After finally graduating and managing to narrowly avoid an all-expense-paid tour of SE Asia, I landed a job with Exxon Minerals doing uranium exploration in Colorado and Wyoming. I thought I had it made – until the boss told me that if I were to continue working in the industry I would need a Masters degree. Crap, that was not in my plans. So it was back to CSM for another 4 years - with summers and a few skipped semesters off working for Exxon in CO, WY, OR, AZ, NM, NV and AK to pay for tuition and to support my skiing and beer-guzzling habits.
The demise of helicopter N8363F
...a good lesson in the glide ratio of a flat rock
September, 1981 5
With MS degree in hand I joined Exxon as a uranium geologist in 1976 and took on the assignment of exploring some 600,000 square miles of Alaska – pretty much everywhere from the drenched rain forests of SE Alaska to the frozen tundra of the Seward Peninsula. That was an incredible experience, exploring some of the most remote, unmapped, and spectacular country imaginable (with fantastic fishing). But it entailed a couple thousand hours of flying time in helicopters and small planes. We were probably lucky to have fallen out of the sky only twice (not counting the emergency landing for a battery fire, or the time we took out the telephone line at the McKinley Lodge – missing the rotors by inches). The second time was a charm, when John Carden and I managed to survive an engine flameout and autorotation-gone-wrong near Lake Minchumina. After that it was back to the lower 48 and 4x4 transport (aircraft lacking wings have since been restricted to heli-skiing - at least that is something worth risking one’s life for).
Political “fallout” from the Three Mile Island incident put an end to the glory days of uranium exploration. We scintillating geos were quickly retreaded as moly and massive sulfide explorers and eventually morphed into gold geologists. Thus, in 1983 I was transferred to Exxon's Reno office to work with Tom Irwin's crew. Oil companies eventually began to realize that mines took a little longer to develop than oil fields; and I ended up graduating from Exxon U. in 1985. After a short stint as Exploration Manager for Rio Algom – reporting to a mining engineer, who didn’t believe in exploration (you can imagine how well that went!), I entered the consulting/contracting business. With the exception of a couple of years working out of Newmont’s Reno office, I have been happily employed as a Geowhuur ever since – working anywhere, anytime, for anyone foolish enough to pay me (and a few who never did). The high point of this part of my career was managing White Knight Resources’ exploration in the Great Basin, and working with the great people who made the company a success. But all that ended in tears due to a hostile takeover by US(eless) Gold in 2007. The debauchery of the Knight’s wake will live on in infamy.
My introduction to the GSN came with the fall 1983 field trip. I was blown away by the geology, the openness of the geologists, and the camaraderie of the participants. It was an incredible experience for a neophyte to the society. I have attended many GSN field trips (and lead several) since then; and have many fond memories (are “Ton-o’-Woman” contests and Land Sharks still on the agenda?). In 1986 I joined the Program Committee for the 1987 symposium. Shortly after that I was “volunteered” to serve as the ’87-’88 Vice President, which was, of course, followed by the role of President in ’88-89. Those were busy days for the GSN, as the society for the first time had money and needed to decide what to do with it (many wild ideas were floated, but sanity prevailed). We also had to deal with securing non-profit status for the GSN, an effort that required the influence of Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich (well done, Anne Loring). Another accomplishment was setting up the Elko Chapter and rewriting the ByLaws to allow for the chapters. The GSN had always been 100% volunteer, but revenues from the symposium allowed setting up the first office and a dedicated phone number (with the bills somehow in my name until 2012 – I must have a great credit history with ATT).
Then, in a moment of shear madness several of us decided that the GSN needed to have a second symposium. Next thing I knew I was “appointed” Chairman of the 1990 symposium – one of the most demanding, but rewarding, experiences of my career (and the reason my ex could never utter the words “GSN” without the prefix “the g__ d___”). Back in those pre-digital days publications were produced on a version of the Guttenberg printing press, but with the dedicated efforts of Gary Raines and Ruth Buffa, we managed to produce some nice symposium volumes.
It has been most rewarding to see the GSN grow from a fairly casual, but very effective, group of volunteers to what is no doubt one of the foremost geological organizations in the world- - offering meetings, field trips, symposia, and publications that rival those of any professional organization – yet still largely run by volunteers. I am proud to have played a small part in that development and my hat is off to all the officers, volunteers, and employees who have made the GSN such a success.
This Face of GSN has not been seen much lately, as I have been working mostly overseas the past few years (Indonesia, Mongolia, China, Philippines, most recently Australia with a little Mexico and Canada thrown in). My goal this year is to spend more time working here in Obama-stan, if the mining industry can survive the harsh political and financial climate. I do try to make meetings whenever I am in town, but schedules don’t always match. So, if I don’t see you at a monthly meeting, maybe we will run into each other on the ski slopes, a backcountry trail, or some juicy outcrop somewhere on this big blue ball. In the meantime may the wind be at your back, high-grade samples in your pack, and a cold beer waiting for you at the end of the day.
John Winton Erwin*
Erin L. Hart
Greg T. Hill
Joseph Kizis, Jr
Brooke J Miller
Justin and Ajeet Milliard
Mia (Cowgill) O'Neal
Shea Clark Smith
Roger C Steininger