Faces of GSN

Mike Ressel, Reno, Nevada (Published in the November, 2018 GSN Newsletter)

I consider myself lucky more than I consider my life and career part of a well-crafted plan. I would not have it any other way. I do what I generally like to do, and always have, and I’m thankful for that, realizing not everyone has that privilege. I’m fortunate just to be in the U.S. in the first place, having parents who as kids, grew up too fast during WWII, not here, but in Germany, the other in Japan. I am the product of the “Axis Parents”, as my high school friends joked. There’s much more to my parents’ remarkable stories, but that isn’t for here. Rather, my story is much less exciting but probably typical of many whose parents came here on a wing and a prayer – things commonly have a way of working out given enthusiasm, hard work, and an open mind. Strangely, my dad wound up in the U.S. Air Force, which I think accepted nearly everyone including one German kid ‘fresh off the boat’ as it were in the late 1950s as war began to brew in SE Asia. The AF was how my dad met my mom, while he was stationed in Japan for several years. It’s that life that my sister, Deb, and I knew as kids growing up in many places. There wasn’t much better early preparation for an exploration geologist than being an AF brat. I got to see a lot of geography, but most importantly, I was eager to move, see new things, meet new people, and I became adaptable to change. As they say in Texas and elsewhere, “Stick around 5 minutes, the weather will change.” So has been my life’s experience. What does this have to do with geology? Really not much, but, I continue. My parents took my sister and me on camping trips about every other weekend during the warm season. It seemed that travel for the AF wasn’t enough. Probably being new to the country, and not as socially attached like the natives, they took it upon themselves to explore. My earliest rock memories, at age 3 or so, are of a gushing Yosemite Falls, glowing stalactites at Carlsbad, dinosaur bones in Colorado, and a ‘diamond’ embedded in tan rock of a Utah lakeshore. The latter, which likely was a large bipyramidal quartz phenocryst in the Keetley Volcanics, fixated me as I tried to pry it loose while dad slowly pulled the trailer away from the campsite. I never got it, and for a long time after, I thought about that perfect diamond. I over-tell this story, but one possible defining moment of why I became a geologist was in 2nd grade, when my grandparents returned home from a Highway 66 road trip toting many polished stones in plastic containers from national park gift stores they encountered in their travels. The next day in Show-n-Tell, I lied through my teeth (or, did I have front teeth then?) of the names of rocks I had in my collection. Many of my fondest memories growing up were of being outdoors. Even when not camping, my parents let me roam, and as long as I was back for dinner, there wasn’t much fuss. I feel lucky to have been raised at a time when that was okay.

My dad took college classes at night for many years. My favorite text on his bookshelf was Longwell’s Physical Geology, which I now have on my shelf. That book helped me choose geology as a major on entering college. Cal Poly Pomona, where I went to college, had 6 dedicated faculty (Berry, Herber, Jessey, Klasik, Rossbacher, and Tarman) and about 10 geology majors in my class. Teaching was the focus. We spent a lot of weekends running field trips to the Mojave Desert, coastal California, and the San Gabriel Mountains, which were only short drives away. I have to say that as much as I loved geology then, I realized at Cal Poly (“Cow Patty” as it’s affectionately known, being a land-grant college like UNR), that there was a lot of geology that I just didn’t understand. I remember upon graduation a few people joking that they’d never hire geologists from California, because geos from there always made things too complicated. There is some truth to that. On the geology bulletin board at Cal Poly, among many flyers for environmental and hydro jobs, was a lone black-and-white flyer promoting jobs on the Carlin trend, the new gold rush – the flyer had an image of tents on the interstate, and best I could tell, if I took that opportunity, I would be living in one! I chose a geological engineering job instead, working for 5 years out of a slick office in Long Beach, California and thinking that that there had to be more ‘geological’ jobs than this one. I sometimes wonder what would’ve happened had I taken the job sitting rigs on the Carlin Trend. Probably, I would’ve found Meikle, or more likely, been run over by a semi in that tent city! In 1992, eager to get back to ‘real’ geology, I left Long Beach with Maggie for Reno. Bob Watters was in the Mackay geology office one hot July day when we arrived. I mentioned to him that I applied for grad school but hadn’t heard from the school. Bob, kindly and without hesitation, enrolled me on the spot with a nod and a handshake, and probably an unspoken ‘good luck, man’. Mackay had a bunch of unconventional students at the time, many having worked in the mining industry. It made an ideal setting to learn from peers and from professors, Hibbard, Hsu, Larson (“LT”), Noble, Schweickert, Thompson, and Trexler, and from affiliated faculty: Henry, Garside, Connors, Castor, Bonham, Wallace, Desilets, Lechler. Don Noble was my advisor over many years during my MS and PhD – he didn’t so much advise or manage students, we were mostly on our own, but he did teach us, by brute force as he would say, and the field was our laboratory, not the other way around. For a mutual liking of things igneous, Chris Henry got me through the final hurdles at Mackay long after I had begun working for Newmont, and he did manage. Chris says I was his best grad student, and I counter that I was his only grad student.

My first real job in mining was as ‘beat’ geologist in the +1 oz/ton (Au, that is) Deep Star mine in the Carlin Trend. Working underground during a time that predated bolting machines was great fun. Deep Star was a 100% visual ore control mine, which meant you mined and shipped ore long before muck assays came back, and because we were always right, engineers and miners grew uncharacteristically fond of us geos, except when we pushed the mine way past the block model. Several mines followed, as did near-mine exploration. Twin Creeks was also a mostly visual ore control mine, at a giant, open pit scale; we geos devised ways that we could demonstrate the value we added, by mining ore in waste polys and vice versa, after material had moved due to blast heave – the monthly realized value was in the millions of dollars. The work was satisfying, useful, and fun, as was mapping every bit of high wall, modeling the geology in 3D, then targeting drill holes based on projections of the model. Such work is every bit scientific but often stigmatized as less so perhaps because the hypotheses are imminently testable and answers good and bad come fast. Eventually, I was weaned from the mine setting and did district-wide exploration, such was the progression at Newmont at the time, and I think a good model for how it should be. At Newmont, also at Kinross and Victoria Resources, I was able to spread my wings, working regionally in the Basin and Range, then Australia, Africa, Canada, Mexico, and Alaska on utterly raw recon through advanced projects as well as snooping on other explorers. Remote camps were the norm in these far-flung outposts, and such work brought on a plethora of geological and logistical challenges unheard of in the Great Basin; paradoxically, these projects demanded exceptional teamwork and individualism alike, and commitment. Through it all, I’m fortunate to have worked with, learned from, and befriended so many good, industrious, and resourceful people, geo-oriented and not.

We Ressels have been in Reno for 26 years. Maggie would say that she’s been in Reno 26 years, and I’ve been here maybe half that. We’ve grown fond of Reno, our kids, Anna and Chris (both 25), and Peter (16), were born and raised here, and we love Nevada. After lots of stomping around in other states, countries, and continents, I have to say few things are as satisfying to me as coming home to Nevada, hanging with GSNers, and the ease with which good geology and exploration are accomplished here. I’ve been at NBMG for four years, and in some respects have come full circle, arriving back to my academic roots at Mackay. My work at the Bureau is diverse, practical, and satisfying, and my end goal remains the same: to contribute to Nevada’s success by doing work readily useful to others. I like mapping, teaching, and collaborating on applied Nevada research, the latter with terrific students and industry cohorts. I still explore, only now with a wider brush and fewer air miles. How lucky I am to be here.

Mike Ressel