- © 2014 UW Department of Geology and Geophysics
As a volunteer guide on Dinosaur Ridge west of Denver, I'm occasionally asked by some bright-eyed middle school student: “Why did you become a geologist?” I generally answer with the usual list of pious platitudes: a chance to do exciting outdoor work in interesting places; opportunities to perform research in a variety of fascinating fields; and the possibility of making major contributions to society through exploration for mineral, energy and water resources, understanding and predicting geologic hazards, and reducing threats to the environment. In my case, however, this is not the complete truth. My decision was made under rather special circumstances. I was, in effect, playing with loaded dice.
My dad joined the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1927, three years before I was born. He was John C. Reed; I am officially John C. Reed, Jr., but have always been ‘Jack’. I grew up in the close-knit society of USGS geologists and their spouses and kids, so almost all of the adult males I was exposed to were geologists of one kind or another. Some of my earliest memories are of summer fieldwork in western Idaho where Dad worked with Phil Shenon and Jim Gilluly. I especially recall the summer of 1938 when the family spent the summer on the outer coast of Chichagof Island in southeastern Alaska, where Dad was mapping the Chichagof mining district. It was there that I got to go underground in a real mine, watch the pouring of gold bricks, and hang around the assay office and mill.
At that time, the USGS was headquartered in a stately old building in downtown Washington, DC. It had a wonderful and unforgettable smell—a subtle mixture of index oils from the labs and printers ink from the printing plant in the basement. I …