In a Bronco with Geologist Dave Love
By Rebecca Hein
At the beginning of John McPhee’s fascinating 1986 book, Rising from the Plains, the author introduces geologist David Love, a great talker and thinker who spent a long, Laramie-based career with the U.S. Geological Survey. McPhee also introduces us to Love’s mother, Ethel Waxham Love and to Wyoming geology in general. Ethel Waxham was still single in October 1905 when she traveled from Denver by train and stagecoach to teach a winter term of school in Fremont County, about 30 miles south of Lander. McPhee weaves in background on David’s childhood and early education after Ethel married sheep rancher John Love, a Scot, in June 1910 and they made a home on Muskrat Creek, near the bone-dry center of the state.
Early in the narrative—geared for the lay reader—the author and David Love, about 70 at the time, are driving around in a Bronco and camping out a lot. Stopping near Rawlins, they get out to look at the rocks. Love says, “The rock that outcrop[s] around Rawlins … contain[s] a greater spread of time than any other suite of exposed rocks along Interstate 80 between New York and San Francisco.”
Passages like this made me wish I’d been riding in the back seat as McPhee was driving, hearing Love’s every word.
Much further on in the book, we learn that Love discovered an even more interesting geologic area in Jackson Hole, which “contained not only the most complete geologic history in North America but also the most complex,” McPhee reports.
After reading this book, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of the geologic record, and the properties of rocks. To see how important a thorough knowledge of geology is, and the trouble caused by disregarding obvious information—or by ignorance of the facts—see Annette Hein’s WyoHistory article, Anchor Dam and the Reservoir that Wouldn't Hold Water.
And of course, geology has always played a huge role in mineral-rich Wyoming’s economy. See more on Love’s contributions to the science in Wyoming's Uranium Drama: Risks, Rewards and Remorse. For more still on why geology matters, see The Oil Business in Wyoming and Coalbed Methane: Boom, Bust and Hard Lessons.