Interviews: Geologist Bob Reynolds

reynolds1Holding a tag line tight, Bob helps deploy the rock dredge.


Bob Reynolds had to make an important decision. The year was 1990 and he had just completed his master’s degree in geology from the University of Idaho. He had spent 13 years in the petroleum industry drilling for oil and was now looking to start work in the mining industry. That’s when Denny Geist arrived in town from Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y. “I was new to the University of Idaho and I was looking for a good student,” Denny says.

Bob chips glass off rock samples in the hangar.
Denny offered Bob a research project working in the Galápagos mapping geologic features that had never been mapped before. “I weighed the decision for about two weeks,” Bob says. It would mean starting a Ph.D. thesis at the age of 36 and he wasn’t sure what his employment opportunities would be when he finished. “I’ve always believed that education provides opportunities and, if you don’t do it, those opportunities won’t be there for you,” Bob says. “I thought the Galápagos was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and, in the mining industry, I would probably never have the chance to travel there.” He accepted Denny's offer.”This is now my sixth trip.”

The logistics of planning that first expedition, to Isabela’s Sierra Negra volcano, was “probably most challenging experience I’ve had,” Bob says. “I didn’t know what to expect. We had no automobiles, and had to move everything either by horse or carry it. I had a student from Ecuador and it was just the two of us for a month by ourselves. We ate mostly crackers and canned tuna, rice and oatmeal.

Los Tiberones performing their pyramid routine with Bob in the middle.
“It’s very different working on land in the Galápagos than at sea. We could see the outcrops, so it’s not quite the guessing game it is when you’re looking at it through 3,000 meters of water. But the trouble was walking. Sierra Negra is mostly a’a lava, which is loose, crumbly and painful to walk across. Your knees, ankles and feet are always at odd angles, twisting and turning. You’re constantly losing your footing.

“We would start at 7 a.m. and work till 4 p.m. collecting samples. At night on Sierra Negra we would camp on the summit in the garúa cloud banks. The garúa can be pretty miserable stuff: windy and wet and everything is damp. The only other place as harsh and remote is the high Arctic of northern Canada.”

Bob is able to make the comparison because he spent six years in the petroleum industry drilling through the ice sheets of the Arctic Ocean into the seafloor. He was working on wildcat oil wells. The operations would wait until winter, when the ice was locked together. “We were sitting on a frozen sea,” he says. “;It was really odd, to fly from Calgary and land on a piece of ice. It was not always smooth ice, sometimes it would be crumpled in ridges, but all you could see for as far as you could see was ice. You got the feeling you were somewhere distant, truly exotic, but not where everyone would want to go. It was really raw nature.”

Bob helps catalog the rock samples from dredge 44.
Other oil jobs took Bob - a native of Titusville, Penn., the birthplace of the oil industry in America - to Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Scotland, Ireland and Italy. “I would always travel on my own by bus after a job to see the country,” Bob says. Now, as a professor of Geology and Oceanography at Central Oregon Community College, Bob travels with his students to the local lakes and volcanoes. Newberry Volcano near Bend is a national monument with two lakes that he and his students are studying. “The college has a 22 foot boat and the students do the same thing we’re doing here in the Galápagos.” With smaller cranes and dredges, they sample for rocks and with a sediment core look for layers of ash, shells and other volcanic debris.

Now, when Bob’s not hiking, sampling or sailing around Galápagos volcanoes, he’s SCUBA diving the ancient volcanic lakes in Oregon or telemark skiing their slopes.