I’m not certain why this geology thing started with me, but by my early teens I had become interested in mineral collecting. Growing up in an urban environment in Baltimore, this may seem a bit odd, but as it turns out, the region has a good geologic diversity and interesting and, in some cases, world-class mineral localities. I would buy specimens now and then, but I mostly just collected things I could find locally or on family trips. Many years later, I would take my daughter Hannah to one of these places just a couple miles from my old house - it was a ridge underlain by Cambrian Setters quartzite that contains nice black tourmaline crystals that weather out into the soil. As a teenager I also collected at the famous Wheatley mine pyromorphite locality west of Philadelphia. Also not too far away was the type locality for the mineral carrollite, a copper-cobalt sulfide, and I ended up doing a senior thesis on the occurrence for my undergraduate geology degree at the University of Maryland. I took a class in economic geology taught by Ann Wylie, and although I really had no idea what a career would look like, I saw the subject as the perfect union of my passion for minerals with applied geology. After my paternal grandparents passed away, I went with my father to clean out their apartment; it was a few years before I started college. Hidden in the back of a closet was a specimen of vanadinite my grandfather bought. It was then I realized that I had indeed inherited the mineral gene from my dad’s side of the family. I still have that specimen of vanadinite to remind me.
After getting my Bachelor’s, I worked for a couple years with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. It was Phil Bethke who got me the job and to whom I owe so much. When he told me there were no positions in mineral resources at the time, I told him I’d do anything, and he said: “Great, how about cutting rocks”! It wasn’t romantic science, but running that little rock lab got me in the door, and I soon ended up in the Eastern Minerals Resources Branch working in the Carolina Slate Belt and on the geology and mineral resources of the Mesozoic rift basins of eastern North America. Work on the latter led to my first publication, a U.S.G.S. Bulletin reviewing the literature on the subject.
I didn’t know much about gold when I arrived at the University of Washington in 1984 to start a Master’s Degree with Eric Cheney. Soon I would, as I got funding from Asamera Minerals to study epithermal gold at Wenatchee, Washington, site of their Cannon mine. Wenatchee wasn’t exactly roughing it, what with being able to go to Burger King for lunch after logging core under apple orchards in the morning and then asking an old lady if I could map an outcrop in her backyard in the afternoon. After graduating, I came down to Reno for a few days of interviews in late 1987 and recognized that I had two choices: work for a big company, where I’d be lost in the crowd, or get on board with a small outfit where I’d be able to make a visible impact. The answer came easily when I walked into Lacana Gold’s little office on Matley Lane and interviewed with Mike Fiannaca. Mike was the only guy who set a few rocks on his desk and asked me what they were and then walked me up to the geologic map of Nevada, which was a colorful stew I knew little about, and asked me where I’d look for gold. Although I had other offers, I couldn’t resist Mike’s, and it wasn’t long before Lacana merged into the bigger Corona Corporation and then ultimately into even bigger Homestake, where I remained until 1999. I still remember my first field excursion in early 1988. I was charged with meeting up with Dave Sterling at a place called Sulfur along the railroad tracks north of Lovelock. Given that it was a prominent place name on the maps, I obviously assumed there must be a hotel, gas station and a place to eat, you know, like back at Wenatchee. Dave tried holding his laughter as I inquired about what the metropolis of Sulfur had to offer, but he finally burst out. Needless to say, a couple days of camping were in store, and I soon experienced what this Nevada gold exploration gig would be like. As part of my initiation fee, Mike provided me with an old Toyota pickup that had no air conditioning, power steering, or even an FM radio. After nearly passing out from heat exhaustion that summer, Mike finally relented, and I was soon behind the wheel of a nice F150.
In the early 1990’s Homestake supported my dissertation research with Mark Reed at the University of Oregon on the Sulphurets district, a world-class porphyry Cu-Au and epithermal gold camp in northwestern British Columbia. I was the first to complete detailed studies of the Mitchell Cu-Au porphyry system, which at the time had about 3 drillholes in it. It’s now one of the biggest gold resources in the world as part of Seabridge Gold’s KSM project. The glaciated remote terrain was a stark contrast with Nevada and was an exciting place to work. After leaving Homestake, I worked with AngloGold in Elko as exploration manager at Jerritt Canyon and on their regional Nevada exploration program. Since 2003 I’ve been continuing my career in Nevada gold exploration working for Redstar Gold since 2005. Perhaps my best achievement in Nevada in recent years was recognizing the potential of the North Bullfrog district with Redstar. After staking it in early 2006 and leasing most of the patented claims, we vended the project to International Tower Hill Mines and their later spinoff, Corvus Gold. Before selling our remaining interest to them in 2009, I had formulated the key exploration targets, including the Yellowjacket area, where Corvus is delineating a high-grade vein system with some great-looking visible gold.
I’m blessed with a wonderful 16-year old daughter, Hannah, who’s in her sophomore year at Elko High School and at the top of her class. When she’s not busy with school work, she’s herding goats, cats, a dog, a chicken, a llama, a rabbit and other assorted beasts (a hamster has recently been spotted), working on science-fair projects, involved in FFA, 4H and her school paper and re-reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time. Regrettably, she does appear to be interested in science, albeit more of the biological variety, so perhaps that little mineral gene is finally evolving!
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