Becoming a geologist has been an incredible journey of friendships, adventure, and challenges. The truly pivotal event in my life as a geologist was being involved with GSN. I look back and recall my first field trip was in 1981, which was on an old Frontier bus that could not make it up the first steep grade on Lucky Boy Pass on its way to Borealis as mining was just starting up. I recall the first GSN meeting I attended was in about 1984 at the old Holiday Inn where the Atlantis now stands. I did not know anybody at the time, just walked around with a beer and smiled. Later on I had the privilege of making friends with nearly everyone in Nevada by attending the meetings and helping with the 1990 and 1995 Symposiums as field trip chairman and as VP and President in 1991 to 1993. Somewhere along the way, I made a few presentations at the monthly meetings; the most memorable included paying tribute to Vic Kral during a Mineral Ridge talk.
So how did it all start? I guess I had no choice in becoming geologist as I was the first son of a Dad who was a miner and adventurer. In his early life before the War, he tried fishing in Alaska, but decided after being ship wrecked near Kodiak that he would try mining. He was a tramp miner and had worked at Bisbee AZ, Empire Mine at Grass Valley CA, and finally at Bishop CA. When the War started, he immediately joined the Navy, became a torpedo man serving in a submarine in the waters north of Australia, and when in Sydney, he met my mom. She was a farm girl trying to escape the hard life. After the war, they married, and I was born in Cooktown, Queensland by a drunken doctor. They soon settled and homesteaded a plot of land in the tropical rain forest on the Atherton tableland above Cairns. Mom was terrified that a big python would gobble me up like the chickens they had, and dad got chased by wild pigs, one tearing a hole in his pants as he climbed a tree after his gun jammed. He made his living by hunting for cassiterite and crocodiles. After that, we moved to Mt Isa and lived in a tent for at least a year while he worked as an underground miner. (You can’t make this up!)
Long distance trips in those days were done by DC-3 prop planes or on old troop carrier ships. In 1953 Dad brought his family across the Pacific with stops in New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii and Vancouver. Visiting these places many years later déjà-vu comes into play. We traveled to Denver by car. He found a job at Climax and we moved to Leadville. I was raised in a house built before 1880 down the street from some old mine dumps. (Do you see where this is going?)
I finally graduated from high school in 1965, went to Colorado State and tried civil engineering, didn’t like it, quit, then got a job at Climax shoveling spillage in the crusher and mill. Viet Nam was happening and I joined the Air Force, ending up in Washington DC for three years. After discharge, I used my veteran’s benefits enrolling in the Geology program at Western State College (affectionately called Wasted State for the skiing and parties) in Gunnison under Doctors Fred Menzer and Bruce Bartleson.
Working for a Big Mining Company. I graduated in 1974 when the industry was in a downturn, but I got my first summer job in Washington State for Bear Creek Mining Company doing rig sitting and stream sampling. I learned to chase black bears up pine trees for amusement (except one that chased me). I spent two summers in Washington State, the second in the southern Cascades around Mt. St. Helens before it erupted. After the summer job, I went to the Questa Mine in a joint venture with Molycorp. I was exposed to every level of exploration and mining. It was during this time I became a volcanic and moly porphyry scientist and could have qualified for a PhD with the work I did. I then decided being a geologist was something I wanted to do forever. I was so enthusiastic that I decided to go to Colorado State to study under Dr. Tommy Thompson for a Master’s degree. I specialized in ore deposits, and found that after Questa, classes were easy. I conducted moly exploration in the summers and completed my thesis over the Turquoise Lake moly sys-tem near Leadville. Life was good.
After a trip to Australia to see relatives and then New Zealand to see the fjords and the champagne pool, I graduated with my Masters in 1980. My new career after school continued with Kennecott. The search program was interesting with exploration moving to gold in the San Juans of Colorado. Jon Gant was my partner, and we did crazy things like drilling a core hole at 13,500 feet off Cinnamon Pass. My two younger brothers saw me driving around in a company truck, kayak on the roof, skis in the back, hiking every day and getting paid for it. They figured it out because they became geologists too, and both are successful in Nevada today. While living in Salt Lake City, I was sent to Papua New Guinea to be the first US geologist to conduct an initial evaluation on what would become the 40 million ounce Lihir gold deposit. I came back with malaria and was very sick. The next year was a trip to the Aleutians flying around the volcanoes out of Dutch Harbor. I could see full scale calderas and volcanic cones everywhere, and it made an impression on me.
Nevada started heating up for gold, so we took the invitation from Steve Potter to move to Reno in 1986. After about a year, I was running the small office on Kietzke Lane. Kennecott’s philosophy back then was to look for something as big as Bingham without drilling any holes. Our mentor at the time was Frank Joklik, CEO of Kennecott, and our mantra was “tons for Frank”. Our first discovery was Sandman, which Frank visited and deemed it too small. It took years of effort in budget meetings, but we finally started to get some drilling money after discovering the Mary Harrison deposit under Highway 49. Soon after, my exploration group started making more discoveries under pavement, which included Gemfield, Midway, and Castle. We woulda, coulda, shoulda got the Spring Valley discovery, but our fourth and last hole intercepted the only blank area in the near surface deposit (Midway Gold finally found it!).
A couple of other resource projects we worked on included Briggs, Golden Arrow and Cahuilla. We also conducted a massive sulfide search in California with some success, and we completed a diamond/colored gemstone program in California and Utah (Ruby Violet beryls) with significant success. People that made things happen in the field at the time were Steve Jones, Carl Hehnke, Tom Callicrate, Toby Mancuso and Will Rohtert, along with many others on the team.
These were heady years because major new discoveries were underway in Nevada. I represented Kennecott at Cortez during their big discoveries and helped to get Rawhide moving again with more development drilling. During this time, the group drilled probably 120 different projects with mineralization intercepted in most. We also developed a new pediment-focused geophysical/structural approach to exploration, which returned mixed results. It was also during this period that Kennecott gave me strong support for volunteer work in GSN and NWMA. Both organizations taught me a lot, and I gave them a lot. Well worth the time.
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