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The Tobacco Root Geological Society is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of the geology of the Northern Rocky Mountain Province.


Main Activities

1) Organize and conduct an annual Geologic Field Conference
2) Publish geology field trip guidebooks, and the journal Northwest Geology

3) Promote field geology through annual student scholarships


Geologists wanted! We are a diverse collection of professional geologists, students, professors, miners, and agency staff that share a common love of field geology. Joining TRGS is easy. Click on the JOIN US link above to learn more.


Field Conferences

Since 1976, we have been organizing annual field conferences to showcase the latest research on the geology of the Northern Rocky Mountain Province.


Each year TRGS publishes a new volume of Northwest Geology in conjunction with our annual field conference. Northwest Geology collects field trip guides, road logs, and maps for that year's field conference. Northwest Geology also includes scientific papers highlighting new research in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Copies of Northwest Geology may be purchased online, or at every field conference.


We fund student research through annual competitive scholarships. Research projects must be focused on geologic problems in the Northern Rocky Mountains.


by Richard I. Gibson (with contributions from Bob & Marian Lankston)

"I am in love with Montana." John Steinbeck wrote that in Travels with Charley, but it nicely sums up why the Tobacco Root Geological Society was formed. Many if not most of the students who took Indiana University's course, Field Geology in the Rocky Mountains, based at the IU Field Station in the Tobacco Roots, went back to Indiana with an intense desire to return to Montana. Bob Lankston and Marian Millen, field course alumni from 1968, and I (1969) were but three of many geology majors who filled many winter hours in the Geology Club Room, on the second floor of the Geology Building in Bloomington, with reminiscences of Montana. We were much more concerned about reunions in Montana than about jobs, and by sometime in 1970 the date and place of a "Grand Reunion" were set: July 4, 1976, in Ennis. The Bicentennial date would be unforgettable, and in those days students in the field course typically went to the Ennis Rodeo on the Fourth of July. There was nothing particularly serious about all this -- just the dreams of a bunch of idealistic '60s students.

The summer of 1969 at the Field Station cemented friendships among Bob and Marian and me that had begun in the previous school years. Bob and Marian were field assistants that summer for Gregg Vane, who was working on a geophysics Master's thesis based at the Field Station. I joined them for the remainder of the summer after I finished the field course. There may or may not be a connection, but Bob and Marian were married the following fall, and my friendship with them both has continued to the present.

Bob and Marian moved to Missoula in 1971 where Bob pursued his Ph.D. in geophysics. I went to Davis, California, in 1972, to analyze kidney stones. A critical event in the history of the TRGS was Bob and Marian's inviting me to Missoula for Thanksgiving 1973. I got there in spite of blizzards in Nevada, and after a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, the conversation turned (not surprisingly) to the dream of the "Grand Reunion." This time there was a difference -- we decided to DO IT. In my mind, the TRGS came into being, at least conceptually, that November day in 1973.

Originally, the TRGS was conceived literally as a party. We figured we'd invite all the guesstimated 1500 alumni of the Indiana field course, and we assumed (with youthful optimism) that at least 300 would show up. Our grandiose plans focused on renting the Ennis Grange Hall (or whatever we could find) and reserving enough rooms to house all these party-goers. We learned quickly that you couldn't possibly house 300 visitors in Ennis (population then, about 600), even if you counted the 60-odd campsites in the area. The good news was that we also began to realize that 50 might be a more rational estimate for attendance -- and that included the three of us and 12 friends who swore they would show up.

Over the winter of 1973-74, the idea that it might be more fun (and maybe even easier) to form a professional society, rather than sponsor a one-shot party, developed and grew. Bob and Marian paid a reciprocal visit to me in California, and we drove our blue and green (respectively) Volkswagen Beetles to Death Valley for a geo-vacation in March 1974.

After a night of sand-blasting storms, a scorpion under Marian's sleeping bag, and a styrofoam cooler punched out by two somewhat inebriated male geologists, we retired to the Oasis Lounge at the Furnace Creek Inn for a few cold drinks. Throughout this Death Valley vacation, we'd been casually discussing plans for 1976, but the meeting in the Oasis Lounge in late March, 1974, was effectively the formative meeting of the TRGS. Marian took notes, so it must have been official.

We had been calling our proposed group the "Indiana University G429 Alumni Association," which is a mouthful to say and has no good acronym. So a primary goal of the Oasis Lounge meeting was to settle on a new name. Dozens of ideas were entertained: Pacific Northwest Geological Society, Southwest Montana Association of Geologists, Indiana Geologists of Montana, Upper Missouri River Geologists, Ennis Geological Society, Northwestern Association of Geologists, Northwest US Geological Society, and all possible variations. None had hooked us all, until Marian said, "Tobacco Root Geological Society." I think we all, almost immediately, liked it; it was easy to pronounce, and the acronym, TRGS, was distinctive and not a tongue-twister. More importantly, it reflected the "roots" of the Society in the range that holds the Indiana Field Station, yet did not exclude non-Indiana people. We realized from the start that there might be a problem in conveying that the Society would support studies beyond just the Tobacco Roots, so the Society, in its Articles of Incorporation, was subtitled "Promoting the study of the geology of the Northern Rocky Mountain Province." Before Bob and Marian left Montana in August, 1974 (for Gulf Oil and a two-year stint in Houston), a first draft of the TRGS constitution had been generated.


At the Lankstons' urging, I too went to Houston in February 1975, to change my career from kidney stone mineralogy to oil industry aeromagnetics. Being together again allowed us to get to work seriously on the TRGS and plans for 1976. One of the most "taxing" efforts was in obtaining non-profit status for the Society. This introduction to IRS language, sub-paragraphs, and incomprehensibility has actually been beneficial to me over the years, as my own tax picture has become more cloudy, but at the time it was quite intimidating. After we filed the initial forms, I got a call (at work) from the IRS with a lengthy list of questions we hadn't even considered: Who will own the copyrights? (We were not yet to the point of worrying about publications.) Would interest income be distributed to the shareholders (what shareholders?) or reinvested, or distributed in accordance with Section 501 (c) (3), paragraphs ii to iii? (And by the way, what interest income? So far our income was zero and the total expenses were for a gavel, bought by the Lankstons, and a copy of Robert's Rules of Order (Revised), paid for by me.). Somehow, we passed the scrutiny of the IRS and non-profit status was granted. Legally, the society was incorporated in early 1977, but official non-profit recognition from the IRS did not come until mid-1981!

Initial operating expenses were paid for out of our pockets, but as we got more organized we solicited Charter Memberships at $25 each. There were 23 Charter Members, and their dues paid for letterhead stationery, postage, and a few phone calls in connection with the 1976 Field Conference, as well as filing fees for incorporation. The first field conference pretty much paid for itself and broke even financially.

We were busily drafting and re-drafting the by-laws for the Society at this time, and most of our "official" meetings related to this. These get-togethers, usually at Bob and Marian's apartment on Bissonnet Street in southwest Houston, were highlighted by "the chair recognizing the floor," or the sofa, or wherever the other person happened to be sitting. We found nothing in Robert's Rules that precluded making a business meeting a fun event! For organizational and necessary legal purposes, we designated ourselves the officers of the Society, with me as President, Bob as Vice-President, and Marian as Secretary-Treasurer. These offices were confirmed in the first election, in 1976.

Also at about this time, Marian drafted the original logo in 1975, based on photos of Hollowtop Mountain taken by Marian and by me (monochrome image at right, above). The color logo based on this (above left) was designed by Brian Collins. The first spin-off product was green T-shirts with the logo, but they didn't appear until 1980. I had them made in Houston.

Plans were proceeding for the July 1976 meeting, now scheduled for Bozeman because of lack of accommodations in Ennis. We contacted people we knew to write papers and lead field trips. Through them, and others they led us to, the first publication and field conference were born.


We thought we were home free when the Montana Bureau of Mines agreed to publish the Guidebook, ultimately a 165-page collection of papers and road logs. However, the agreement stipulated that we would do all the editing. As it turned out, all three of us reviewed and edited all of the papers (pretty much a new experience), and Marian re-drafted a number of the original figures and re-typed some of the manuscripts. We were, not surprisingly, somewhat late in getting copy to the Bureau of Mines, and, consequently, the Bureau was somewhat late in getting the books printed and delivered to us. In fact, the publication was delivered to me at the Bozeman Holiday Inn at 2:30 p.m. on the day that the meeting started, with registration (and book distribution) to begin at 3:00 p.m. That afternoon was made more complicated by the fact that I got lost hiking out of the Curly Creek drainage in the Tobacco Roots, from the pre-meeting hiking/camping field trip led by Tom Hanley. I was five hours late to Bozeman, arriving 20 minutes ahead of the Guidebooks. Buster LaMoure, a University of Montana and I.U. field station alumnus, and Chauncey Avrel, an octogenarian friend of Bob and Marian's from Missoula, who happened to be in the lobby, were designated as receptionists while I took a shower and dug up the registration packets and got the hotel organized. That day also happened to be the only time in the history of the Indiana Field Station that a student was lost overnight. 

After that, the 1976 Field Conference went off basically without a hitch, if you discount a few humorous typos in the Guidebook, such as the "erosion surfaces, which may be traced southward to Corres Ponding," presumably a village somewhere south of Ennis. There were about 60 registrants for the first meeting, and, like the 1993 meeting, it was marked by a reception and dinner at the Indiana University Geological Field Station. The membership decided at the 1976 meeting to pursue incorporation, which was accomplished in about a year.

Membership in the TRGS in June, 1975, was 38, derived from 14 states. By October 1975, the society had 50 members in 20 states, and in January 1976, membership had increased to 65, representing 26 states. After the 1976 Field Conference, membership had grown to almost 100.

Bob and Marian Lankston and I were actively involved in the Society for about five more years; Marian's involvement was longer. Over the years, meetings have been held in many different locations in Montana, as well as in Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. The Society and its leaders have evolved in very positive ways, and the TRGS remains one of the things in my life of which I am most proud.

Home Base for the formative meeting of the TRGS in Death Valley, 1974.

Dick, Marian, and Bob at the 2007 meeting (the 32nd) of the TRGS. How time flies! Photo by Mike Stickney.

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