Secrets Behind 17 Major Mining Discoveries: Dave Lowell (1928-2020)
A lifelong quest for hidden treasure led Dave Lowell to become the most successful mine finder in history. At the tender age of 7, Lowell became enchanted with the world of mining at his father's camp.He dreamed of becoming a mining engineer and spent the next 85 years passionately pursuing his goal, even after netting millions from his discoveries.
Lowell's secret to finding mines was to increase the target size. He studied mineral signatures around orebodies, searching for patterns and ratios. This led to the development of a framework that expanded the target area for common copper deposits by 10X, enabling him to zero in on rich ores like Escondida, the world's largest copper mine.
Embracing failure, Lowell learned that only 3 in 1000 prospects become mines. Frantically, he turned over projects, operating with frugality and agility. He surveyed areas of interest from the air and returned by horse or helicopter to collect samples.
Lowell funded his education by collecting and selling rare minerals from Mexico, a venture that taught him to navigate difficult terrain while dreaming of greater success. After 30yrs of exploration, he made his first mine discovery in Arizona in 1965. He challenged existing geological dogma and identified copper signatures that previous explorers had overlooked. The discovery resulted in a massive deposit that sold for $27M and netted Lowell a $120K fee. The drill site was not without drama; a rival prospector even kicked Lowell's colleague in the face there. It taught him a valuable lesson: when value appears, people scrap like dogs over a bone.
Incredibly, Lowell made his second discovery in the same week, also copper in Arizona. One quickly became a mine, while the other remains undeveloped to this day.
As support for US mining waned, Lowell shifted his focus to more inviting territories. He recalled feeling a "prickly treasure-finding feeling" when discovering something new. Lowell’s later discoveries spanned Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Paraguay, unearthing rich copper, gold, and other metallic deposits in these countries. In Chile, a small negotiation oversight cost Lowell billions, when he accepted a cap of $3.75M on his 5% carried interest in the Atacama project, which yielded Escondida in ‘81.
But his deal-making and mine-finding skills sharpened with age. Before he discovered Peru's Pereina gold, he and his family members received 5.125M shares in a company later acquired by @BarrickGold for $30/share. No lawyers were present when Barrick Chairman Peter Munk & Lowell finalised the deal, at Lowell’s insistence.
The payday did not change his lifestyle. Lowell continued exploring even after experiencing a bad fall in the Ecuadorian jungle at 74 on a day he made yet another discovery.
Like legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus’s countless second place finishes, Lowell narrowly missed making more discoveries, but his research and advice contributed to dozens more.
A decade ago, I had the honor of meeting Lowell and his wife Edith at their Arizona ranch, where we created this brief video capturing his remarkable story.
Lowell published his memoir "Intrepid Explorer" the next year. He regretted not writing more but had to leave on a new prospect. His life was well-lived, and many owe their copper pipes to him.
Dave Lowell’s exploration principles:
More great bits from Intrepid Explorer, Lowell’s 2014 memoir:
“In the late 1950s.. Once I was asked to look at a largely promotional prospect in the state of Chiapas, in southern Mexico., I met the Canadian junior mining company president, who drove me around in a 4x4 International Scout to look at mineral showings on his property. He was a geologist, but one of many mineral explorationists who do not understand the principle that “ore is rock which can be mined at a profit,” and that a few copper stains not related to a high-grade, thick, continuous, vein or a large area of pervasive, low-grade mineralization is simple a scientific curiosity.”
“..mines are almost impossibly hard to find, and almost everyone is lined up in the ranks to prevent you from finding a mine, and in the front rank fighting fiercely to prevent you is the top management of your own company. If you can qualify in all these tests and are still desperate to find a mine you can go ahead on equal terms with the [illegal miners].”
My previous stories on Lowell:
“He thought his career was winding down in the mid-1980s, but he then went on to make eight additional discoveries.” Financial Post (2015)
Mining’s Greatest Explorer CEO.CA (2013)