Discovery. Landscape. People. Not, necessarily, in that order.
I now know that I was destined to be a geologist:
Stollenwerk: Stollen is German for a type of mine shaft. While at New Mexico Insti-tute of Mining & Technology, Dr. Kuellmer stopped mid-sentence in crystallography class to ask me if I know the roots of my last name. He went on to diagram out the type of mine shaft known as a “stollen” in Germany.
My parents met in college while fulfilling their sole lab science class required at UW-Milwaukee. It was the geology class. They must not have paid much attention to the class, because my dad used to say our house was made of limestone (it was faced with a mica-garnet schist) and my mom would proclaim, dramatically, “all of this was created by glaciers” on every road trip we took through the Appalachian Mountains (that plate tectonics stuff was just a crazy theory).
My dad was conceived at Round Mountain, NV. In the mid ‘30’s, my grandparents went west in search of work. Grandma was the camp cook and Grandpa was a carpenter, and they spent some time at both Summitville, CO and Round Mountain, NV . I have some treasured old photos from that time, including a post card from Round Mountain in 1936 proclaiming that “the gang was delighted with the news”, which was the birth of my father.
But how did I get here? Serendipity many times over.
Growing up in Lancaster County, PA, I attended an elementary school that was a “lab” for Millersville State College, a teacher school, that was quite free-form and hands-on learning. You could call some of the teachers “hippies”, for sure. We frequented a small natural history museum (The North Museum) that is attached to Franklin and Marshal College. It was just the right size to keep a kid interested. As a teen, I would ride my heavy steel Schwinn for long rides on country roads through the Pennsylvania Dutch farm country. The goal was ride until I didn’t see evidence of man – a vista without buildings or telephone wires. I felt the pull of The West, just like my grandparents. I probably applied to the oddest assortment of colleges, getting accepted at almost all of them. Never having been west of Mil-waukee, I flew out to New Mexico to begin my freshman year at New Mexico Tech. Despite the bit of shock at first (there were trees in the photos in the catalogue), the drive from Albuquerque to Socorro showed me what a real “vista” could be. I figured I was a westerner for good.
Oddly, my first major at NMT was Mining Engineering (despite the fact that I had never seen a mine before in my life). On my first Mining 101 field trip, which was combined with a geology class, I knew that I was not with “my people”. As my fellow Mining Engineering students were intently inter-ested in scheduling haul packs to go up and down, and up, and down, and up, and down, and…, I thought “man, I am NOT with my people”. But those geology majors sure seemed to be interested in those rocks, which were awfully colorful. My sophomore year, I took Geology 101 and, yep – that was for me. My mining Engineering professor accused me of joining “those hippies” (aha!), right before confessing that his first degree was geology.
I worked in the Hydrology lab, and took a summer job as Joan Gabelman’s field assistant for her MS field work in Northern New Mexico on the Rio Bra-zos. Our closest neighbor was a Mennonite cowgirl from Lancaster, PA.
I graduated in 1987, expecting to become a vadose zone hydrologist somewhere, but my first job as a college graduate was at the Socorro Pizza Hut. Not my first pick, but, hey, one has to get the rent somewhere. One day, I waited on a grad student who asked me “are you still looking for work” (really?) and I was directed to Dr. Norman’s office. Will Wil-kinson of Westmont Mining had called him looking for a student to come and take soil samples near Elko, NV for “6 weeks, maybe longer”. I packed up my bike (now a mountain bike – they were the new thing back then) and a few suit cases and went farther west. I had not thought of working in exploration, but here I was on the geochemical sampling crew for Jeff Jaacks. The Westmont crew didn’t shake me in 6 weeks or even 6 months. I stayed on and did everything from claim staking and drill rig sitting, to working with the geochemical data. I was the first to go through the Nancy Johnson Mentoring Program.
It seemed I needed to get a Master’s degree, so I wound up in Golden at the Colorado School of Mines. I studied min-eral deposits class, and went on ALL the field trips possible: Canadian Shield, South Africa, Nevada, Mexico, Leadville. I was also fortunate enough to be a founding member of the first Society of Economic Geology Student Chapter EVER. Looking at the thriving global spread of SEG Student Chapters, it is difficult to imagine the organization without them. We organized a lecture series, field trips, and conferences. While we were in the midst of planning a conference on “The Geology and Minerals Deposits of the Soviet Union”, that Union fell. With that region opening to the west, our conference was a huge success, and demonstrated to me how valuable participation in organizations is.
I spent summers working, including one summer in Venezuela taking stream sediment samples in a remote helicopter (poorly) supported camp with my friend, Phil Allen, who had graduated the year before. The evening I arrived, they gave me a tour and I asked where our water came from. They showed me a barrel catching rain water. There were guppies in that water. There were also spikes on trees, snakes and wild boars everywhere, ants that give you a 24 hour fever when they bite, and electric eels in the river we bathed in. It is hard to say “never again” to a career where I routinely had the theme from the Indiana Jones in my head, swinging across streams on vines and crossing paths with a jaguar (he just looked at us and kept loping along). The indigenous population also took an interest in us, and came by camp regularly.
A few years later, I was offered a job I could not refuse - to go look for diamonds in Venezuela. Off I go to South America, again. There were diamonds being mined from the laterite, and we were looking for the source kimberlites. It was better supported logistically than the last gig, but offered other chal-lenges.
I eventually was back in Denver, and found myself on a phone call with some-one calling from Ghana, asking me if I wanted to come to work in Burkina Faso. I agreed without being sure exactly where that was, I have to admit. I got off the phone and rode my bike (a Specialized Rock Hopper) down to the Tattered Cover to buy a big Rand McNally Atlas that night. Oh! Upper Volta! And off I went to West Africa to work for International Gold Resources on the Poura and Youga projects. I certainly learned a healthy respect for metadata on those projects. And French (after a fashion). An orphaned lamb named Andre somehow adopted me. Yes, Mary had a little lamb. The other expats thought that was just hilarious.
After IGR changed hands, I joined Placer Dome in West Africa. With Placer, I worked on a couple of green fields projects in Cote d’Ivoire, spent some time logging core at the Samira project in Niger, with further travel in Burkina Faso and Mali looking at properties. Lateritic profiles became my frenemy – it plays games with the gold. My favorite coun-try remained Burkina Faso. The people were so kind and honest. I once left my wallet in a taxi in Ouagadougou; I just jumped out and went into an office compound. I realized I didn’t have it on me and I ran back out, watching the taxi headlights disappear in the distance. I had my passport in there, as well as a decent amount of cash. I hear a “psst” from the side of the road – “Madam!”. Some boys selling cigarettes were holding it for me. They would not take any reward, as that would imply that they would have stolen it. I did purchase their cigarettes – I just didn’t take them with me. This type of experience with the people was common.
In 1998, I returned to the US from Africa, and began consulting in the Denver area. I trained up in GIS and kept mildly busy during this slow time in our industry. Some field work came my way also, taking me to northernmost Quebec, South Dakota, and, importantly, Suriname. In Suriname, I worked with quite a motley crew of great geologists, putting the first holes into Gowtu Bergi (creatively, “Gold Hill” in Sranang Tongo). At Gowtu Bergi, the laterite had concentrated the gold and artesinal miners, called Pork Knockers in Suriname, were mining. It is interesting drilling a structurally complex deposit for a bauxite company (ah – nope, not flat, not near surface…). Much work has been done on this property since, with Newmont now permitted to mine. However, my most important discovery in Suriname was of a different nature. People often ask us how we met. Derreck Sadjoeri has an elaborate story about how I ordered him off the internet. I am glad to have this platform to set the story straight. We met on this project, and he kissed me first.
In 2005, Mary Doherty suggested that I apply to run a prep lab in Winnemucca. Derreck and I figured that if we needed two jobs in exploration, we had better move to Nevada. For once, I moved for a job to a place that I had actually been before! In my 10 years with ALS Minerals I am still learning this industry, but from another viewpoint. While I certainly miss having my own projects, I thank my clients for letting me be a part of their projects. Sorry, but I just can’t tell you about any of them.
I could say that the possibility of discovery is what had driven my career – I loved to be the first to see what came out of that drill hole. It would not be wrong, just incomplete. It is the people I met, and the landscapes I was treated to that make a career in geology so worthwhile. To that end, my involvement with GSN has been very rewarding. As a member, Publications Chair, and Symposium committee member, I have been fortunate to be involved with events that advance the science of exploration, as well as provide a network of community. I have to share an outsider’s impression of GSN. My mother once attended an Elko GSN BBQ. She said she met so many interesting people, and that
I am still going on every field trip possible, and I now ride a Specialize Roubaix.
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