Today has been emotional. My dad called me this morning to tell me that my grandfather—his father—is gone. He was 96, and he was the last of my grandparents to grace our presence. As I tearily sit here and reminisce my experiences with him, I am left most moved by his life of exploration and unstoppable desire for learning about and figuring out one of the most beautiful places in the world: Death Valley. He had something I don't: singular focus. His passion was for the geology of Death Valley.
His gift to our family was showing us that we were explorers and that we went out to enjoy and study the planet we live on. He gave us a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective of what one of the most extreme places on earth was like to try to fully understand, and he spent most of his life out there trying to figure it out.
I'm sure the geologic community will miss him. He's arguably the most "famous" family member I've had. Throughout my life, more people than I can count on my hands (including professors in college, other architects, and strangers) have asked me if I'm related to him, just by connecting our last names. It was because he was a well-regarded geologist who spent the better part of his life searching for answers on plate tectonics in Death Valley of all places. I always thought that was cool. Somehow, before there was an internet, he had important things to say about it and his words spread. You can see his books on his life's work at Amazon.
Here are some of my memories connected to him:
- The story of him getting his USGS-issued station wagon stuck in Death Valley for 3 weeks in the middle of nowhere. His tires punched through the crust of the dry lake and he found out after it was too late that the chicken wire mesh used to get the tires out of those kinds of situations had been cut into small, tidy little squares and rendered completely useless. He dug out the underneath of the car and lived in his shady makeshift cave until someone finally found him three weeks later.
- When the geology students of Sonoma State university had serendipitously found a wooly mammoth tooth while eating lunch in DV during a field trip. We were out there visiting him right after that happened. As a kid, I got to see them unearthing the entire skeleton from the ground. It's now on display in the Shoshone Museum, near where it was found.
- Searching with Granman for trilobite fossils at the road cut, going up into the ash hills looking for fire opals, scavenging the ground for quartz crystals, and finding the Lockheed SR-71 crash site looking for bits and pieces of titanium, carbon and asbestos.
- Crawling through dark, tight tunnels carved by water through the ash hills. He always had a new adventure for us when we visited.
- Going deep into the gypsum mines near China Ranch, long before they were fenced off and closed to passers-by.
- Driving his old 1974 orange and white FJ55 Landcruiser on backroads and trails that not many people have seen to destination mostly unknown like Chloride Cliffs and other remote places. That truck was first my dad's, then my grandfathers, and then mine. I miss it.
- Spending Christmas with my family at an old iron mine. We were in DV in the cold of winter and my parents, brother and I slept in the heated bathroom building while my grandparents were in their small travel trailer. When we got there, they were skinning a burro. Feral burros were still in the area from miners generations ago. I remember not liking the meat LOL. One day we hiked out into the hills and somehow and found a small pine tree, cut it down, dragged it back to our camp and decorated it with junk we found laying around the mine site. We placed ornaments of crushed beer cans, rusty metal parts, and barbed wire onto the tree. Best. Tree. Ever.
- Being introduced to the ritual of going to the Tecopa Hot Springs—a set of natural hot baths that people in the area use for healing and relaxation.
- My grandfather was a consummate collector of mostly junk, and I loved it even though I was enlisted several times to help clean it out. I will always remember digging through his stuff looking for treasures that I knew he would part with if I asked. I've never seen so many golf clubs outside of an actual golf store.
- He owned the first Macintosh I'd ever seen. It was the coolest computer ever (I was probably 12), and he was using it to write his books and draw diagrams before most people knew what to do with computers.
Goodbye Granman. I regret not spending more time with you.