One of the authentic icons of 20th century Wyoming and the West is gone. Dr. J. David Love, known to many as a great geologist and to many others as simply a friend, died Aug. 23 (HCN, 9/16/02: A legend of the land). He was 89.
His humble beginnings as a ranch boy in the isolated Muskrat Basin of central Wyoming belied the towering scientific figure he was to become. When asked only recently how it was that he became a geologist, he jokingly replied that as a youngster in a land of rocks and vast landscape, "there wasn't anything else to see where I was, except the rear end of a cow 15 hours a day." He went on to attain three degrees in geology, two from the University of Wyoming and the last a Ph.D. from Yale University.
Dave, as most of his friends knew him, was a classic, old-time field geologist. He learned the intimate details of geology by walking the ground. There is no way of knowing how many thousands of miles he covered, afoot or on horseback, from plains to mountaintops. He knew Wyoming as no other man knew it, and he developed an encyclopedic knowledge. He came to know soils, toxic minerals such as selenium, and poisonous plants, as well as geology.
Dave's knowledge of various mineral deposits brought important economic benefits to Wyoming. One of the accomplishments of which he was justly proud was an exquisitely detailed geologic map of Wyoming, the first done in 1955 and a revision done in 1985. He generously gave me an autographed copy of the latter, which hangs in the Wyoming Outdoor Council office in Lander.
Dave's training as a geologist - and geology's inclination toward the exploitation of minerals for the needs of society - sometimes brought him discomfort. He was the kind of man who loved the wild places whose geology he explored, well aware that what he found might violate the integrity of unspoiled land. Through it all, he always respected the sanctity of natural creation.
Dr. Love, as many people fondly remember him from memorable, roadside geology trips, had a profound effect on many people. Throughout his later years, he was invited to speak, or to lead show-me trips investigating local geology. Those trips were cherished by the folks who were fortunate enough to participate. His gentlemanly manner and courtly grace endeared him to countless numbers of admirers who, before they accompanied him on field trips, had no idea of the wonders he revealed to them.
Margie Rowell first met Dave and the Love family when they visited the Red Bluffs Ranch southeast of Lander. That ranch had been the Gardiner Mills Ranch, where Dave's mother, Ethel Waxham Love, had come to teach the Mills children in 1905.
Margie was living there, fresh from California and completely ignorant of Wyoming geology. Like many others, she became completely enthralled with the world around her because of Dave. As she says, "Dave Love enriched my perception of Wyoming by putting everything in Technicolor."
Dave and I never knew each other until I began my environmental odyssey. I was some years his junior but as I began to speak out on environmental matters, he took note, and when we first met, he was sympathetic and encouraging.
We shared somewhat similar boyhood backgrounds, mine in the Great Depression days. My interest, however, turned to plants and animals. When I returned from military service, I finished my training in wildlife conservation and game management at the University of Wyoming.
A stint as a biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department took me all over Wyoming. I came to know the state in a much broader sense, but my knowledge was never comparable to Dave's. As a result, his wisdom and experience were invaluable to me. He gave me insights and answered my questions so that I could speak and write with more authority. We found we had much in common and became fast friends.
Dave was always supportive of my efforts, and when I launched High Country News, he was there to help. Both of us loved Wyoming and the Red Desert. How it was that we never discussed efforts to save some part of the desert, I will never know. But both of us, independently, made that effort. I think it may have been one of the last regrets in leaving this old planet - that we are still fighting an uphill battle to protect the majesty and mystique of the Red Desert.
Dave will be greatly missed.