GSN

Faces of GSN

Curtis L. Johnson, Reno, Nevada (Published in May, 2018 GSN Newsletter)

As a kid growing up in western Washington state, I learned at an early age the outdoors would be an important part of my life, although it wasn’t always apparent. Through my formative years, much of my time was devoted to playing baseball, and any free time beyond that was spent wrenching on cars, because if professional baseball didn’t work out, surely a mechanic would be the next best thing. After a slew of high school friends convinced me I really didn’t like working on other people’s cars, I began to pursue other lines of thinking. Maybe working in the logging industry like my dad, grandpa, and great grandpa had done would be the way to go? Although I disliked school, I was slowly convinced by teachers, and reinforced by my parents, that college was a good way to get a better job. Knowing essentially nothing about the process of applying to school, I chose to apply to the University of Idaho because it was cheap and there was no application essay. To my surprise, I was accepted – do they let everyone in?

Upon entering the University of Idaho, I remembered my early love for the outdoors, and realized I’d rather spend a career working outside than riding a desk. Geology seemed to fulfill this and offered good paying jobs in the industry, so I declared geology on day one and haven’t looked back since. During my second year, we took a field trip to Elko and Winnemucca, which included a tour of the Twin Creeks mine. Like many in the US, I had never actually seen a mine, and was completely blown away by the shear size of the pit and amazing exposure in the high walls. That pit tour, plus a fantastically entertaining geology presentation by then chief geologist Pat Donovan, convinced me on the spot that this was the industry for me. From then on it was a head down focus on economic geology, which turned out to be the perfect discipline for me.

My first lucky break was after my third year, when I was given the opportunity to work a summer with Newmont in the northern Carlin Trend at the Leeville mine. This is entirely thanks to the chief geologist Alex Davidson who thought he’d give some kid with moderate grades from the University of Idaho a chance against applicants from the big mining schools because it “seemed like he knew how to work”. While there, I began to appreciate the complexity of Carlin-type systems and the intimate relationship of mineralization and Eocene dikes both from underground observations, and from reading the work of Mike Ressel, Chris Henry, John Muntean, Jean Cline and others. This led to my first taste of the research side of geology in a senior thesis exploring the relationship between dikes and mineralization at Leeville.

Work on the senior thesis and thousands of feet of Leeville core convinced me I really didn’t know a whole lot about Carlin-type systems, or economic geology in general, so graduate school was the next step for me. My second truly lucky break was getting the opportunity to work with John Dilles at Oregon State. It turned out John had an idea for a project working on the spatially and temporally associated Emigrant Pass volcanic field south of the Carlin Trend – the perfect place for me to learn more about the connection between Eocene magmatism and Carlin-type gold. Through John’s deep knowledge and passion for teaching the next generation, I learned an unbelievable amount during two of the best years of my life, and we made some progress on the Carlin-type story.

After completing my M.S. in 2015, I was fortunate to land a mine geology position at Newmont’s Phoenix mine south of Battle Mountain. This turned out to be the perfect next step for someone with my interests, as the Phoenix Eocene porphyry-related Au-Cu skarn system is the best example of the clear relationship between Eocene magmatism and Au-rich mineralization. Over two and half years, I learned an amazing amount about what it takes to call a rock “ore” and was able to understand the inner workings of a complex skarn system through many miles of highwall mapping. While at Phoenix, through Newmont’s mentoring program, I was matched up with Dick Reid (maybe at my request…) who has been one of the biggest influences on how I think about grassroots exploration and geology in general. Enough thanks can’t be given for the amount of advice (and contract exploration work) he’s passed along.

As I write this in mid-2018, I find myself in the midst of the next step in my economic geology career – pursuing a PhD in the Center for Research in Economic Geology (CREG) at the University of Nevada, Reno with Mike Ressel. It’s incredible how things can come full circle as I now get to work with one of the people who inspired me most in the beginning. As you might imagine if you’ve read this far, or know Mike’s background, our work continues to be focused on understanding the relationship between Eocene magmatism and gold mineralization in the Great Basin.

I want to thank GSN for the opportunity to write this Faces of GSN column and introduce myself to those I haven’t met in the organization. It will be interesting to read this column in thirty years, as unlike many previous writers, I still am in the early stages of my career. All I can say for sure at this point is the past ten years haven’t unfolded as planned and I don’t suspect the next thirty will either – I just hope much of that time is spent in the field.