In 1979, just after I turned 2 years old, my parents made the bold decision to leave the bustling yuppie culture of Orange County, California, to purchase a tiny general store in Fish Camp, a town of 36 inhabitants in the high country of the Sierras, at the southern edge of Yosemite National Park. It was truly an amazing place to grow up and I will always be thankful to my parents taking that risk to sell out of Southern California for the quiet life of the Sierras. In my early school days, I attended a one-room school house with eight other kids, which combined kindergarten through 8th grade, in the YNP town of Wawona. I graduated from Yosemite High School in Oakhurst, but I can’t say I was exposed too much Geology/Geoscience through my primary education. Perhaps that’s because when you live on the batholith, it seems like there are only two types of rock in the world: granite and decomposed granite.
My original plan was to pursue a business degree in college, but thankfully I wound up in the Geology program at UC Santa Barbara. UCSB was a fantastic experience, learning earth science from some of the real giants of the discipline. While at Santa Barbara I was fortunate to work on a senior thesis for Dr. Jim Mattinson involving conventional TIMS U/Pb geochronology and learned to map at the Poleta Folds, a standard rite of passage. After graduation I tried to avoid the real world at all cost by traveling around the Mediterranean, SE Asia and Australia, backpacking with UCSB geo-friends for 6 months.
After returning to reality, I attempted to earn a living as environmental geologist for Tetra Tech Inc., based in Santa Barbara. During that time I primarily focused on groundwater contaminant plumes and remediation at Vandenberg and Edwards Air force bases, but I quickly decided that this was not the professional path for me. After consulting with mentors at Santa Barbara, I was connected with Dr. Bill McClelland at the University of Idaho, and started a tectonics and geochronology MSc thesis involving the Paleozoic suture zone of western Gondwana and the pre-Cordillera terrane in western Argentina. I spent two field seasons in the San Juan Province, mapping in an upper amphibolite- to granulite-facies gneiss dome, collecting samples for U/Pb zircon analysis, eating fabulous meat, drinking mate and enjoying fine malbec by the camp fire. The analytical data for the thesis was acquired on the LA-ICPMS at Washington State University and the SHRIMP-RG at the Stanford/USGS facility. As a lowly grad-student, most all of my time spent on those instruments was between the hours of 11pm and 5am, mostly to keep the instrument running. Bill was an excellent advisor and mentor, keeping my office mate and me on task, and getting us in and out of Moscow, ID in less than 2 years.
After graduate school, Bill put me in touch with some of his former colleagues and I started working for NovaGold Resources, exploring for VMS deposits in the schist belt of the southern Brooks Range of Alaska. It was an exciting and talented group to work with and was very opportune timing for me, given that it was 2005 and the industry was just beginning to rebound. When I started full-time with NovaGold, the “age-gap” between the next oldest staff geo and myself was about 25 years. As exploration budgets surged with limited manpower, I found myself moving quickly from the sampler/core logger role to project management of logistically complex projects in remote parts of the bush. It was a steep learning curve and I made plenty of mistakes, but the experience was invaluable. The key lesson I learned those first couple years was to locate the most experienced individuals, ask them a lot of questions, and listen closely.
In 2006 at NovaGold’s Dahl Creek camp in the southern central Brooks Range, I was extremely fortunate to meet my future wife, Laura De Grey (now Laura Ellis, whom many of you know from her time at ALS minerals). After the end of that field season, Laura accepted a contract geologist position at Round Mountain, NV and to my delight, she wanted me to come with her. I continued to work for NovaGold in Alaska while living in Hadley (Round Mtn), meanwhile taking much grief from my managers for relocating my home base to company-owned town, 4 hours from an airport, in the middle of nowhere. After all, we worked remotely, so I could have lived anywhere in the western lower 48 or Alaska. The reality was that living in a dumpy contractor trailer in the center of Nevada was exactly where I wanted to be. By mid-2007 Kinross had an opening for an exploration geologist around Round Mountain and I decided this was a great opportunity to learn more about LSE epithermal systems. Laura and I worked and lived at Round Mountain for several years, thoroughly embracing and enjoying life in the Smoky Valley. We moved on in 2010 to try our luck in north central Washington, with Kinross’ Kettle River Operations. I spent the next 2 years exploring for Au-Skarns and LSE-epithermal systems in the greater Republic district and evaluating projects in southern BC and the US northwest. In late 2011, I joined Kinross’ exploration team in Reno and I have been focused on the Great Basin ever since. June of 2017 will mark my 10th year with Kinross (knocking on wood as I type). Laura is now teaching middle school science in Sparks, and we have two small children, Eva (5) and Richard (2), and we hope to call Reno home for the long term.
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