all started so early. Gary Penley, a geologist who has experienced
several extraordinary achievements, did not have what most would
call an ordinary upbringing.
by his mother and grandfather on a cattle ranch in the remote area
of Clay Creek, Colorado, Penley nurtured a tenacious curiosity that
would later lead him to profound discoveries both on and off the
oilfield, the discoveries were prolific, and if they were the sum
total of his accomplishments over the 30 years he explored as a
petroleum geologist, they are enough to place him in the upper echelon
of petroleum geologists.
field? There's more, much more, in Penley's personal biography —
experiences that range from literally the depths of the oceans to
the tops of the mountains — and including his recent successful
career as an author.
like so many other AAPG members, has
gained national celebrity as an author — not a writer of geologic
or technical papers, but of novels, memoirs and non-fiction exposés
that have been called dramatic, compelling and important.
is self-taught, and his books, even the novels, come out of his
personal experiences and are "from the heart," he says — which
makes that childhood in a dirt-floor house even more remarkable.
home was a study in simplicity. With no electricity, few modern
conveniences and a sparse existence, Penley spent most of his time
working beside his beloved grandfather, a man he describes as "a
real life John Wayne who picked himself up by his bootstraps and
— at the age of 60 with virtually no money — cultivated a thriving
Penley says, fostered in him a deep connection to the land, and
a boundless need to solve nature's mysteries.
after his grandfather's death, the teen-age Penley left his boyhood
home and entered the U.S. Navy, where he soon discovered a penchant
for intricate mechanical operations.
six years on a nuclear submarine as a mechanical nuclear power plant
operator — an experience that gave him the confidence to enter
Weber State University and begin his studies.
of my upbringing, I was going to be a forestry major," Penley recalled,
"but I took one physical geology course, and I was hooked."
in fact, that he completed the master's program at the University
of Kansas in record time, then set off on a 30-year career as a
respected petroleum geologist.
years, Penley established himself as a proven practitioner of development
geology throughout Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and the Gulf
Coast regions. In a career filled with accomplishment, Penley:
11 geologic basins.
a field in northwest Kansas that produced over 314 million barrels
with a team of Amoco geologists that hit its reserve replacement
for a year in only six months of drilling — all largely due to
his exploration and development work.
a grease seeker who knows how to find it," said former colleague
and current AAPG geoscience director Jack Thomas, "a true marvel
with amazing focus that serves him extremely well in all areas of
response to such praise is humble as the man himself, noting that
his colleagues are all gifted with an intense focus, single-mindedness
that is a part of their nature, and an essential professional skill.
geologists are essentially detectives," he said. "It's half science
and half art, and they are unique individuals."
accounts, Penley's talent as a geologist is the stuff that dreams
are made of in the oil and natural gas industry. That is why peers
were stunned when, at the age of 55, he decided to make a radical
career shift and enter the world of publishing.
left his colleagues wondering: What makes a man with an obvious
connection to the physical nature of things delve into the abstract
world of literature?
qualities that make a great geologist are the same qualities that
make a great writer," he answered. "Curiosity. The need to delve
beneath the surface and discover what's at the heart of things.
Unearthing mysteries and piecing together stories from a few scattered
encouragement of a close friend, the savvy of a skilled editor and
an understanding wife, Penley mastered literary form and quickly
navigated the many obstacles associated with publishing a first
novel. Two years and three drafts later Gary's first novel, a work
based on his own childhood titled Rivers of Wind: A Western Boyhood
Remembered, won top honors at the 1998 Colorado Book Publisher's
honor served only to fuel his burgeoning passion, as Penley set
out on a new life course. He soon completed a second novel that
was based on the life of a friend: A "normal" woman who was mistakenly
placed in a mental institution for 20 years.
the acclaimed Della Raye: A Girl, Who Grew Up in Hell and Emerged
Whole, is now under consideration as a possible movie.
months Penley has been on a nationwide promotional tour of his latest
work, Jubal, a semi-biographical novel exploring the still relevant
issue of racism.
if you ask the author today what he's most excited about, he would
tell you his focus has shifted once again to a new project — a
work in progress whose subject matter is very dear to his heart.
on a new novel," Penley said. "The main character is an investigator.
I wanted him to be intelligent, creative and well traveled. So I
made him a retired petroleum geologist."