I am writing this from my hotel room in Hawthorne, NV, not a place I ever dreamed of visiting but a small town surrounded by an Army munitions depot and the basins and ranges of the Walker Lane. Some of you might know it, as we have a mini-GSN meeting each morning in the local diner before we all head out to check our respective rigs. I am working on a drill program for a small exploration company down a dirt road few have traveled with a beautiful view of the highest point in Nevada, Boundary Peak, backdropped by the high Sierra. Not a bad office!
I was a slow starter in the field of geology. Even though I had a rock collection at a young age, was great at reading maps, enjoyed camping and the outdoors, and excelled in my science classes, it took until well beyond high school to begin my career in geology.
I had been working in various restaurants in Athens, GA for almost 10 years (pizza maker, dishwasher, line cook, kitchen manager, head meat cook, muffin man, bread delivery man, farmer’s market vendor, etc.) when some major life events turned me in a different direction. At 27, I decided to go to school for science and somewhat randomly called the undergraduate advisor for the Geology Department at the University of Georgia (UGA). In one short meeting, Dr. Rob Hawman convinced me to declare geology as my major.
Being an older student, I knew I needed to get involved. I became an event coordinator for the newly revived Geology Club at UGA. Together with a couple other older students, we were able to plan some amazing geology adventures (backpacking, camping, canoeing, caving) throughout the southeast with themes ranging from the Pennsylvanian carbonate plateau in the Tennessee-Alabama-Georgia area, to coastal barrier island sedimentation in South Carolina, to unconfined aquifers in northern Florida. Cooking was (and is) still a passion, and I could (and still can) cook up some delicious field food for fellow geo-campers on multi-day trips. These skills were handy during our field school based in Cañon City, CO, where I became the defacto head chef during our excursions to eastern Utah and northern New Mexico.
Besides school, other geological organizations such as Georgia Geological Society (GGS), Atlanta Geological Society (AGS), and the Geological Society of America (GSA) exponentially helped my geological understanding of the world through field trips, conferences, and short courses. Throughout school and my career, field trips and conferences have been some of the most eye-opening learning experiences. I owe a lot to the people that I have connected with and learned from through these and other organizations.
Upon graduating with a B.S. in Geology in 2011, I started working for Uwharrie Resources (now Carolina Gold Resources), a private gold exploration company. Over the next ~2 years I worked for them throughout the Carolina Slate Belt in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. In that time, I cobbled together a decent understanding of east coast geology, a ninja-like understanding of a machete, a healthy fear/respect of waist-high poison ivy and the many blood sucking insects, and a thorough understanding of the differing BBQ in all three states: mustard, vinegar, and smoky-savory tomato-based, respectively.
By late 2013, the gold price was low, and work was scarce. I applied to and attempted to work a bunch of geology jobs, most notably a couple months in northern Ontario, Canada, before accepting a position in Carlsbad, NM as a mudlogger in early 2014. I had fallen in love with hardrock exploration geology/puzzles, and so I applied to graduate schools before I moved to New Mexico. Between working on oil rigs, going on geo-adventures, and rockhounding in southeastern New Mexico, I learned a ton in the 5 months I worked on oil rigs for Morco Geological Services in the Delaware Basin.
Before going to graduate school in the fall of 2014, I was a teaching assistant at the Georgia-South Carolina field school for a second time, based in Cañon City, CO, expanding my understanding of Rocky Mountain stratigraphy, sedimentation/oil plays in the Paradox and Uinta basins, and hydrothermal/volcanic systems in the Vallez Caldera and the San Juan Mountains. The jump from southeastern New Mexico, to central Colorado, to the Black Hills for graduate school proved to be an amazing transect of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic strata across the middle of America.
I spent a little over two years in Rapid City, SD during my graduate program at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT), learning about Black Hills geology through school and proximity. One summer I spent working as a contract exploration geologist at Wharf Mine in Lead, SD. I was their sole logger for the RC drill program and mapped near-mine exploration targets in the lower Paleozoic units. In school, I became heavily involved in the SDSMT Society of Economic Geologists (SEG) student chapter as Secretary and then President, putting together field trips in Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and around the Black Hills. I also joined the South Dakota AIPG chapter, and enjoyed their field trips in South Dakota and northwestern Nebraska.
While in graduate school I embarked on my first forays into Nevada geology. With guidance from my advisor, Dr. Zeynep Baran, and emeritus professors Dr. Alvis Lisenbee and Dr. Colin Paterson, and with oversight from Jim Carver, Matt Fithian, and Andrew Armstrong at Marigold, I completed a thesis that investigated the structural controls on mineralization at Marigold Mine. Keeping me close to Marigold for field work on the weekends, I picked up a summer internship at Meikle/Rodeo (Goldstrike Underground) with their modeling group. The combination of underground experience, modeling work, Carlin Trend geology, and nearby thesis work propelled me into my post-graduate job with Barrick at Turquoise Ridge starting in January 2017 as a production geologist.
Turquoise Ridge is an amazing deposit. Having such high-grade ore (with a cutoff grade two orders of magnitude greater than the mine where I did my thesis…) may have skewed my gold-grade-reality a little. Picking up my rounds underground, working closely with operations and the engineers, and making decisions daily based on gold grades and costs showed me the many factors considered to get gold out of the ground – a useful lesson for future exploration endeavors. During my time at Turquoise Ridge, I became Secretary of the Winnemucca GSN chapter. The experiences and contacts I gained by being a part of such an active society are invaluable. Over the last 2 years, I have met some amazing people and learned a lot from all the field trips, meetings, and events. The community promotes a healthy flow of information (and beverages) - all of which I have and continue to enjoy.
I recently started a new chapter, leaving the stability of production work in a well-endowed mine to do consulting/contract work with a private exploration company, KA Gold. Underground production geology is something I will miss, but the unknown and excitement of exploration was calling me back. This returns us to my hotel room in Hawthorne, my current home away from home.
As I wrote this essay, I realized that a central theme of my relatively short geology career has been identifying gaps in my understanding of geology and finding ways to learn more. What makes GSN such a great organization is that it provides ample opportunities to fill these gaps. Listening to experienced geologists, having discussions with colleagues, attending field trips and meetings, and getting up close and personal with the rocks provides incredible ways to learn, which only fuels our curiosity. Seeing life as a never-ending learning experience, I figure we will be entertained (and hopefully employed) for a while.