Harrison Ford as “Indiana Jones”

Editor’s Note: Alternating between the broiling landscape of Saudi Arabia and the splendor of the gorgeous campus at Stanford University, journalist Anthony C. LoBaido has traveled to document the epic tale of the late geologist Max Steineke. The Stanford graduate’s role in the discovery of the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia – the richest mineral treasure chest in the history of mankind – is legendary. Some estimates claim the Ghawar’s capacity may exceed 300 billion barrels of oil.

Stanford graduate Max Steineke, class of 1921, made world-changing contributions to humanity

Steineke began searching for oil across the sands of Arabia in 1934. There were no roads, few sources of water, brutal heat and humidity, sandstorms, and an alien language and culture. After years of exploration without success, he heard from the headquarters of the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company, or CASOC, located at 225 Bush Street in San Francisco. (Standard Oil of California is today known as Chevron.) Steineke convinced the company’s elites they needed only to “drill a little deeper.” Steineke changed the face of geopolitics through his sheer determination. His signature was the then-maverick technique of “core sampling.” He learned this method at Stanford under professor J.E. “Brick” Elliott, who taught petroleum technology. Steineke also discovered the massive Abqaiq field, which features 12 billion barrels of oil.

In the 21st century, through the work of Dr. Donald Lowe, the Max Steineke endowed professor at Stanford, the field of geology informs astrobiology, as NASA searches for alien worlds guided by knowledge of ancient Earth. Astrobiology is an academic discipline that seeks to study the origins, evolutionary arc, distribution and possibilities of future life in the known universe. It pursues useful environments within our solar system (consider that both methane and water are found in abundance on several of Saturn’s moons) and potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. Does other life exist in the universe, at what level, and can we find it?

Astrobiology is underpinned by traditional fields such as geology, geography, molecular biology, physics, chemistry and astronomy. Exobiology is another term used in regard to astrobiology. This refers more specifically to life beyond Earth, and how extraterrestrial environments might impact such life. Duke University has an interesting exobiology overview.

“Ad astra per aspera” – Latin for “A rough road leads to the stars.”

PALO ALTO, California – One cannot help but recall that singularly memorable scene in the (circa 1930s) Hollywood epic, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

It’s the one in the map room when the rising sun shows “Indiana Jones” (adroitly played by Harrison Ford), the exact location of the Ark of the Covenant. Ostensibly, the Ark, dominated by two winged angels sitting atop God’s “mercy seat,” contains the tablets upon which the actual Ten Commandments delivered to Moses were written. At the height of the Great Depression, there was a real-life, archetype Indiana Jones figure operationally deployed in the field. His name was Max Steineke, and his relentless quest to find oil in Arabia would change the world forever.

The Memorial Church at Stanford. Stanford graduates such as Max Steineke and Dr. Donald Lowe have had a tremendous impact on the world of science (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

The film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” depicts “Indiana Jones” finding the location of the lost Ark of the Covenant in “The Well of Souls”

Unearthing the life and achievements of Max Steineke is both a privilege and an adventure. One day, you might find yourself marching around some very nice state-of-the-art facilities in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The August temperatures are well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat seems to come at the interloper in waves. It’s beyond Belize, Namibia and the Kalahari. Yet this is the price that has to be paid to follow in the footsteps of this legendary geologist.

Well-known author Graham Hancock is regarded as a premier scholar concerning an academic search for the Ark of the Covenant. Yet the search for the itinerary of Max Steineke, a former teacher and lumber mill employee – in terms of his past work, present influence and future legacy – is more art than science. It’s a multidimensional jigsaw puzzle in which multiple realities are all simultaneously coexisting.

This is a story of a venture by American capital in a strange and ancient land located in the Middle East. The film shows how the Aramco, or Arab-American Oil Company, and Standard Oil Company of California searched for and extracted oil in Saudi Arabia:

Steineke was born in March of 1898 in Brookings, Oregon. He was one of nine children raised by German immigrants. He tended 2,000 chickens in Sebastopol, California (where he attended high school), and received military training at the Presidio in San Francisco, which turned him into an excellent marksman. Yet little could his parents have imagined their son would travel the world in search of oil: from California to Canada to Colombia (for six years) to Alaska (working in Point Barrow and Cape Simpson) and to New Zealand. Steineke served as the chief geologist for CASOC. He held this position between 1936 and 1950. In March of 1938, “Dammam No. 7″ sprang to life with a commercially viable quantity of crude, thus changing the Arabian Peninsula forever. The area was bombed by Axis powers in the primordial days of World War II, foreshadowing its future geostrategic role.

The original CASOC concession in Saudi Arabia sat along the Persian Gulf. It was roughly the size of the state of California. Eventually, land was added to that for a total of 440,000 square miles. In time, CASOC became Aramco, and then Saudi Aramco. After the oil shock of the early 1970s (OPEC was furious that the U.S. stepped in to save Israel via rearmament during the 1973 Yum Kippur War), the American share of Aramco was targeted, eroded and finally bought out. The mid-to-late 1970s were a time of great weakness in the U.S. Consider the moral failure of the 1960s counterculture movement, the Jimmy Carter presidency (with the Soviet Union making gains from Angola to Afghanistan) and the demoralizing defeat in the Vietnam War. The American loss of the company that morphed into Saudi Aramco might be considered by some as a tremendous geostrategic disaster. However, by establishing the Saudi-centric “petrodollar,” the U.S. was emboldened by the fact that the dollar remained the de facto global reserve currency – meaning America could ostensibly export its inflation to the rest of the world.

Black gold

The Ghawar field stretches 174 miles by 19 miles. Its riches have captured the imagination of geologists all around the world. Yet much of the technical information about this field remains a carefully guarded secret. The Ghawar has already offered the world a great amount of oil, and a large amount still remains below ground. How much is left in this field, other fields in Arabia and different locations around the world, no one can say for sure. This has become a matter of great debate in the oil world.

The June 2009 issue of National Geographic reported:

“In 2000, a Saudi oil geologist named Sadad I. Al Husseini made a startling discovery. Husseini, then head of exploration and production for the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, had long been skeptical of the oil industry’s upbeat forecasts for future production. Since the mid-1990s he had been studying data from the 250 or so major oil fields that produce most of the world’s oil. He looked at how much crude remained in each one and how rapidly it was being depleted, then added all the new fields that oil companies hoped to bring on line in coming decades. When he tallied the numbers, Husseini says he realized that many oil experts ‘were either misreading the global reserves and oil-production data or obfuscating it.’

“Where mainstream forecasts showed output rising steadily each year in a great upward curve that kept up with global demand, Husseini’s calculations showed output leveling off, starting [in] 2004 … this production plateau would last 15 years at best, after which the output of conventional oil would begin a gradual but irreversible decline.

“That is hardly the kind of scenario we’ve come to expect from Saudi Aramco, which sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves – some 260 billion barrels, or roughly a fifth of the world’s known crude – and routinely claims that oil will remain plentiful for many more decades. Indeed, according to an industry source, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi took a dim view of Husseini’s report, and in 2004 Husseini retired from Aramco to become an industry consultant. But if he is right, a dramatic shift lies just ahead for a world whose critical systems, from defense to transportation to food production, all run on cheap, abundant oil.”

Reuters published this Saudi Arabia oilfield map in 2011

Why didn’t Steineke simply give up? For reasons both personal and scientific, he persevered in his epic quest to find oil. And why not? After all, this region is famous for material blessings and curses. The most famous and controversial alleged blessing traces all the way back to Abraham, Hagar and an angel. In the book of Genesis, we are told that an angel appeared at a well, “Beerlahairoi,” or “the well of the living,” to preserve Abraham’s half-Egyptian son Ishmael and his mother Hagar. They had been driven into the wilderness by Abraham’s jealous wife, Sarah. Some audacious scholars wonder if this story refers to water, or perhaps to wells of oil that would enrich the Arab peoples in future millennia.

The actual biblical account states, “And the angel of the Lord found her [Hagar] by a fountain of water in the wilderness. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, ‘I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.’ And the angel of the Lord said unto her, ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.’ Wherefore the well was called ‘Beer-lahai-roi’” (Genesis 16:7, 10, 11, 14).

Hagar, Ishmael and Abraham are also a part of the Quran and with that, Arab and Islamic culture. It is said that Hagar is remembered as a pious woman during the pilgrimage or Hajj at Mecca, and that the leadership and motherhood role of women is celebrated. The well in Islam is called “Zamzam” rather than “Beer-lahai-roi.” Oil, water, Christianity, Islam and Judaism all meet at the crossroads of Hagar – as faith, myth, religion and destiny have collided Hagar with Max Steineke.

The Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company, Arabian-American Oil Company, and BECHTEL International Corporation show us the development of Saudi Arabian oil fields and pipelines during the 1950s.

As noted, one of Max Steineke’s greatest moments occurred on March 3, 1938. On this date, Dammam No. 7 came forth with 1,585 barrels per day. On March 22 of that year, it reached 3,810 barrels per day. The Saudi government was informed, and CASOC paid the government 50,000 British pounds for the concession as per the agreement. The payment was made in gold. By 1982, Dammam No. 7 had pumped 32 million barrels of black gold.

The Ivory Tower

“Moon over Stanford Dish” taken by Tim McManus on Oct. 18, 2013

The drive to Stanford University from the San Francisco Bay Area is a stunning journey. You’ll cross the beautiful causeway (92) headed for Half Moon Bay. Upon approach of your final destination, you’ll pass The Dish, a 150-foot in diameter radio telescope established in the 1960s for the U.S. Department of Defense. (This lexis is not to be confused with The Dish reporting what Stanford people are up to.)

Upon sight of The Dish, one might be reminded of that famous scene in the epic film “E.T.” in which the star alien becomes ill, builds a makeshift device, and then begins “calling his people.” One might also consider the role of Jodie Foster in the film “Contact,” as it relates to the SETI project or “Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” Other notions of multiple universes (like individual bubbles in a mug of beer), a “Hyperverse” or even an “Omniverse” also emerge as quantum and theoretical physics enter the mind as esoteric possibilities of postmodern science.

Beyond The Dish, there’s the Stanford National Accelerator Laboratory the university runs for the U.S. Department of Energy. If you’re concerned they’re busy trying to recreate the Big Bang, find the “God Particle,” or that they might create a black hole and blow up the universe, then check out the official webpage. At two miles in length, this was the longest and straightest structure in the world. It was known as “Project M” and sought to accelerate electrons toward the speed of light to examine the behavior of subatomic particles. This was, in effect, a genesis of the inquiry into the “Higgs boson.”

The Stanford University campus itself is breathtaking. There are green manicured lawns and Spanish colonial architecture. The Memorial Church is simply astonishing with its elegant stained glass windows, high ceilings and similar decor. Upon arrival at the campus at sunrise, squirrels scurry about on their squirrel errands. You might see a few students riding around on their bicycles. Yet for the most part, the main quad is totally empty, and it reminds one of the old conquistador capital of La Antigua, Guatemala.

Making your way through the main quad, eventually you’ll find the classroom of the engaging, erudite Dr. Donald Lowe, the Max Steineke Professor of Earth Sciences. This prestigious professorship has been endowed by the transnational energy giant Saudi Aramco. Dr. Lowe, who was born not far away in the state capital of Sacramento, is not only a world-class geologist, but truly an other-worldly geologist. His resume includes work with the NASA Astrobiology Research Laboratory, and serving on the SETI Advisory Committee.

Dr. Lowe has also developed four planetary science courses at the NASA/Ames Research Center. Clearly, if E.T. were to land on the front lawn of the White House, and the beloved alien creature said, “Take me to your leader,” Dr. Lowe might be one of the first people our leader would call for advice. To top it all off, while deployed in the field as a geologist, Dr. Lowe dug up the oldest meteorite ever to strike the Earth, which scientists estimate is 3.47 billion years old. According to Dr. Lowe, this meteor left deposits both in South Africa and Australia. While visiting his laboratory at Stanford, the professor allowed this writer to hold objects said to be 3.25 billion and 3.4 billion years old. They were smooth and felt like highly polished slate.

Handsome and regal, while resembling Scottish actor Sean Connery of “James Bond” fame, Dr. Lowe commands the respect of his peers. He lectures while wearing a sweater, jeans and sneakers. He uses his laser pointer as he shows various slides to his equally brilliant students. They have come to Palo Alto from Connecticut and even the United Kingdom. No one has written”Love You” on their eyelids, as depicted in another memorable scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” One might recall another skit from Fox’s hit show, “The Simpsons,” in which a naughty student who brought in a “geologic sample” for show-and-tell has been locked in a cage and is being swung from the ceiling while he exclaims, “My geo will not be ignored!”

As his lecture unfolds, Dr. Lowe writes on the whiteboard with a green marker. Almost immediately, it runs out of ink. He asks for another marker. This one doesn’t have a cap. The marker issue is resolved by a devoted teaching assistant. Then Dr. Lowe begins writing various mathematical equations. Geology is not for the timid. He mentions the region around Zion National Park near St. George, Utah. “If you were there long ago …” he tells the students …

The lecture moves forward. There are a plethora of terms to absorb such as “shear stress,” “high velocity flow,” “parting lineation,” “hydraulic jump,” “anti-dunes” and their migration, “abyssal zones,” “post-depositional structures” and “soft-sediment deformation.” As he speaks, Dr. Lowe skillfully meanders between topics ranging from Death Valley, California; the Yucatan; the New Madrid fault south of St. Louis, Missouri; dinosaur footprints in Colorado; something called “zoophycus ichnofacies“; bioturbation; “a nice ophiomorpha burrow” and “Skolithos ichnofacies.” The carbon dioxide levels of ancient Earth are discussed.

“I’m a warm-Earth fellow,” Dr. Lowe tells his students.

He also recounts a story from his Louisiana State University days. This one involved standing on the beach while “pouring gallons of plastic resin into a hole, then having a crab crawl up out of the hole, taking a look at [him] and then crawling right back down.”

When it dawns upon one of the students that this poor little crab died a cruel death by suffocating in a plastic mold, she meekly says, “Aww!”

The office

Dr. Lowe displays one of his geologic samples, which scientists say is more than 3 billion years old
(Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

As we sit in his gigantic office space, I can’t help but to notice all of the rocks and other geological samples. No geo could possibly be ignored here. Not at Stanford. Dr. Lowe is one of the great scientific minds in his field, yet he’s extremely humble. He says he cannot make a prediction about whether or when Yellowstone’s massive volcano might erupt – if ever. When he speaks, you know every word counts. The stories he weaves are told with grace and insight.

“It was long go …,” he begins, his voice trailing off. “Even in my youth, I was collecting rocks. I enjoy looking back in time. Then I entered Stanford and took a geology class. I suppose that’s how it all began.”

Dr. Lowe explains, “With a BS in geology, you can work for an oil company, perhaps as a technician. But if you want to progress higher, and aim for a better position, you will need a master’s and then a PhD. It’s the same thing if you wish to teach at a university. Large energy companies see geology students at educational institutes as a way to meet the needs of the company.”

As for how he became involved with the search for E.T. under the SETI program, and the field of astrobiology at large, Dr. Lowe said, “Stanford University put in a proposal to NASA, but in retrospect I see it was way too narrow. Then I started working with other scientists at Penn State and UCLA. NASA’s interest in space is linked to its interest in early Earth – the only planet we can currently get our hands on.”

He continues to speak insightfully, deconstructing each question with the aplomb of a king tossing aside a drumstick at a Thanksgiving feast. His world is the world of hard science. While the general public might conjure up images of Bruce Willis racing off into outer space, drilling deep holes, and detonating nuclear weapons to save the Earth from an asteroid impact, Dr. Lowe is the guy, along with the other PhDs at NASA, who tells you the difference between science fiction and science fact.

He fleshes out a previous line of questioning by adding, “NASA is interested in the inner and rocky portion of the Earth … to get a sense of what was going on with the evolution of the Earth itself in the early stages of the Earth’s development … this allows us to postulate what we might see on Mars, or other bodies in the solar system and beyond.”

What’s “out there” in terms of new planets is nothing short of astonishing. Exoplanets where it rains iron, ice that’s hot instead of cold, diamonds can be found everywhere, and even more incredible discoveries astounding scientists. As for the chances of finding alien life, “The Drake Equation,” first postulated in 1961, is a mathematical model seeking to ask how many advanced technological civilizations there might be in the Milky Way Galaxy. A simple working model can be found here. PBS and Nova offer another tutorial.

I ask Dr. Lowe about the idea of “Pangea,” the term suggesting how all of the Earth’s continents used to be one giant land mass, and he quickly replies, “Yes, the continents have broken apart, perhaps more than once.”

Has there ever been a polar shift on Earth? Dr. Lowe touches upon the “north-south barrier,” an “open system” and “polar wanderings.” He said, “I am not a big believer in abrupt polar shifts. Magnetic North may vary … if you stood at a fixed point at the pole, you might see the continents move, per se …”

As for what Stanford University has meant to his life, his career and to the world at large, he said, “Stanford sends graduates to work at the major oil corporations. We’ve had Gorbachev here. The Hoover Institute is one of the leading institutions in the world.”

We then spend some time talking about Stanford’s global impact in terms of personalities such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the more recent Susan Rice. Both are African-American women. One was a Republican, and the other is a Democrat. The reigning constants are their mutual Stanford University backgrounds.

“Leland Stanford (the founder of the university) was involved in the building of the transcontinental railroad (from Sacramento to Utah). Stanford graduates are involved in just about every area of human endeavor … there are four departments in our school. We have the Departments of Geophysics, Energy Resources Engineering, and Environmental Earth Systems Science. We just changed the name to the ‘School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.’ Me, I’m just another person here. That’s how I view things. I try to make my own contributions to the greater whole.”

As for his personalized linkage with the late Max Steineke, Dr. Lowe offered succinct comparisons: “He and I are similar. We’re field geologists with interests in sedimentary geology. We share an affinity for geology, in both our approach and techniques.”

As for following in the footsteps of Max Steineke, Dr. Lowe said, “I’ve been to Saudi Arabia several times. We went in January. We’re not stupid.”

“Unlike Anthony LoBaido, who went in July and August,” I reply.

The professor laughs. It is the laugh of a kind man who has taken in much. He continues on, touching upon deep water sediments, more regarding his time at LSU gaining knowledge about the major reservoirs off the coast, and about the platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. He said he does some consulting these days. He mentions analyzing the sedimentary flow emanating from a delta mouth off the east coast of the nation of India.

“I’m well beyond retirement age,” he said. “I could have retired long ago. But I want to stay active as a professor emeritus.”

Read the full transcript of LoBaido’s interview with Dr. Donald Lowe.

The European Space Agency’s new telescope “Gaia” will use a billion-pixel camera to map a billion stars. “Gaia” is shown here in an artist’s impression

There’s a lot of work to be done in the field of astrobiology. Consider there are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone to sort through. So-called “super-Earths,” which are half rocky and half water, rank as the prizes astronomers are prioritizing. GJ1214B is one notable super-Earth. It was discovered in 2009 through Harvard’s “MEarth” project led by David Charbonneau. The first exoplanet was found in the mid-1990s by two Swiss astronomers named Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. It’s known as 51 Pegasi B. As of January 2015, 4,175 “candidate exoplanets” have been discovered, and 1,013 have been “verified.” Yet only eight have been found in “habitable zones” vis-à-vis the orbits around their stars. In case you’re wondering, Geoff Marcy, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has found more exoplanets than any other human being.

Other missions are planned to find more of these types of planets. SuperWASP (“Wide Angle Search for Planets”), based in South Africa and the Canary Islands, is another notable endeavor. WASP-12-b is one of 26 planets catalogued by SuperWASP. In 2017, the launching of yet another telescope, the “Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite,” will capture images twice as powerful as the Hubble. All of this information will be analyzed under “Big Data” rubrics.

Support for these projects, and others like SETI and OSETI (which uses a powerful optical laser), must overcome detractors and funding naysayers such as former Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. Back in 1993, the senator said, “Not a single Martian has been found,” before putting forth an amendment in the United States Senate to cut off all funding for the SETI program. Apparently this happened before people realized you can just print as much money as you want.

Cardinal rules

Various Stanford publications have reviewed the legacy of Max Steineke’s connection to Big Oil, and not all have been terribly flattering. “The Arabian Adventure of Wallace Stegner” by Cynthia Haven was published in Stanford Magazine, and it created tremendous backlash – even from Max Steineke’s late daughter, Maxine. The responses can be found here.

Maxine Steineke, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford, wrote:

“I found it troubling that Cynthia Haven trivialized the achievements of the geologists who worked in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s and 1940s. One of those geologists was my father, Max Steineke, ’21. He went to Saudi Arabia in 1934 and was joined there, in Dhahran, by my mother, my sister and myself from 1937 to 1939.

“When the geologists arrived in the early 1930s it was unknown whether their search for oil would be successful. They were a small group who lived and worked under rugged conditions in a harsh landscape. It is far off the mark to refer to them as being on a ‘junket.’

“In 1937, when the oil camp had become built up enough for families to join the exploration crew, conditions were still austere and Spartan. When we few families arrived we lived in small two-bedroom houses surrounded by desert. The men were often gone, working long hours out in the field for many weeks at a time. They were not on a ‘lark,’ although they did like working on geology. Most, including my father, learned Arabic. They regarded their Arab guides as partners in their exploration.

“Ms. Haven quotes Wallace Stegner’s book Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil, but she seems so keen to discredit it that she follows Stegner quotes with belittling remarks of her own. After quoting a Stegner passage praising my father, she flippantly says, ‘In short, Indy Jones.’ She makes fun of several photographs of my father. She says ‘in one photo, he grins from beneath the traditional checkered Arab headdress, like a kid at a frat costume party’ – he actually was not a member of a frat; he worked his way through Stanford and was a hasher.

“She doesn’t seem to realize that the Arab garb was worn as a sign of courtesy on certain occasions. Of another photo she says ‘he sits on a stone … banging on a rock with a hammer. It looks posed, a visual cliché.’ Apparently she doesn’t know that this is what geologists do. I saw him in this position hundreds of times … Max Steineke has been widely recognized for exceptional achievements in the discovery of vast reserves of oil and gas in Saudi Arabia. He and his early colleagues were serious professionals trying to figure out the geology of the Arabian Peninsula, a difficult task. To trivialize their efforts by using words such as ‘junket,’ ‘playacting’ and ‘lark’ is a distortion of the immense challenges they faced and what really happened.”

Images like these commemorate the contributions of Max Steineke to geology and humanity (Photo by Anthony C. LoBaido)

Perhaps the best short piece about Max Steineke is a remarkable one-page article by Carol L. King titled “Max of Arabia.” The article appeared in Stanford Magazine in September 1991 via the “Special Centennial Edition, 100 Years of Achievement.” The article paints a more positive portrait of Steineke. It begins, “On the desert sands that became his home, the Max Steineke legend lives on.” King states that Max Steineke was “rugged but not handsome,” possessing “extraordinary stamina,” and that he was a “friendly, unpretentious leader who inspired men with his own energy and enthusiasm.” Steineke could “smell oil,” according to the article.

King hits on a major turning point in the evolution of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco. In March of 1938, near the coastal village of Dammam, CASOC “struck oil at 4,727 feet.” This was a world-changing event. Great moments in history – the real turning points – often go unnoticed.

King articulates that legend says, “Steineke memorized the geology of Saudi Arabia from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea.” This paid off, when, as King rightly notes, the men working under Steineke found the Ghawar field containing an “estimated 60 billion barrels of oil.” He mapped subsurface features and utilized aerial photographs. King also notes, “While World II raged in Europe and North Africa, Steineke stayed in Saudi Arabia to produce oil for the Allies and protect the oil fields from enemy occupation.” Using his expert knowledge of the area, Steineke “selected sites for four airstrips that could be used by friendly aircraft for forced landings.”

Following in the footsteps of Max Steineke offers fruit in a multitude of small treasures that are unearthed along the way. One came in a clipping I found in Saudi Arabia. It was an item dated Nov. 3, 1948. It documented how a “group of former Stanford students attended a meeting at the Dhahran dining hall following by a meeting to form a group in the Field of the Stanford Alumni … At the conclusion of the meeting, a motion picture, ‘Stanford in Autumn’ was shown, along with one of the California-Stanford Big Game of 1948. … It is anticipated that this group will hold quarterly meetings and it is their desire to have 100 percent attendance of former Stanford students in Saudi Arabia.”

Eating at the Dhahran dining hall (which I did many times), as well as attending meetings in Steineke Hall (which Saudi Aramco named after Max), adds a certain charm as they offer simple yet special connections to those who came before and made the present paradigm possible.

Max Steineke is pictured in this iconic photograph during one of his field surveys in Arabia

For those interested in the anecdotal and ancillary past of Max Steineke, there are other documents. I would cite the personal writings of his wife, Florence. Through the archives at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, I was able to find these rare jewels, which, for Steineke lovers, stand on a par with diamonds, gems and rubies.

On Dec. 16, 1937, Mrs. Steineke wrote:

“On Thursday night we attended the first ever motion picture shown in Saudi Arabia … and Arabs were forbidden to attend by their own government … but they were about five deep all about the house peeking through the windows. The picture was Ann Harding in ‘The Gallant Lady.’”

Another excerpt reads:

“We have been having a great deal of excitement about here lately, the crown prince of Arabia has come over here to the East Coast, and has pitched a huge camp at El Khobar. We went down to watch the evening he arrived. He came in a caravan of fifty cars … from the capital.

“The bedu were gathered in front of the meeting hall, while some who had guns and knives danced about in a ring, singing all the while … occasionally throwing their guns in the air, whirling them about a catching them again like the leader of a college band. Then came the prince! All dancing stopped and then the people of importance flocked to the prince to kiss his forehead. The prince is now in Bahrain visiting, but I understand that when he comes back here he is going to have a tea and invite all the ladies of the camp. I understand that the children also will be presented to the prince. (This tea was held on Christmas Day.)”

From Jan. 6, 1938:

“We have a golf course at camp now. It is just a sand course that the biggest rocks have been cleared from, but it gives us something to do. We have to yell ‘fore’ at the camels though.”

From May 9, 1939, regarding the Steinekes’ daughter, Marian, there is an entry which displays the characteristics of a spunky little girl who knows how to get what she wants.

(In a strange coincide, Indiana Jones’ love interest in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” is named “Marion Ravenwood” within the story arc, and is played flawlessly by actress Karen Allen in the role of her career.)

“We celebrated Marian’s fifth birthday by having everyone in camp for tea. It all started when each woman in camp, on her own hook, promised to make Marian a birthday cake, so that Marian had extracted promises for seven birthday cakes. I must say the ladies here make swell cakes, angel foods, and devil foods, fit for the king himself.”

One of Florence’s entries is of particular geostrategic importance. It is dated April 11, 1938:

“Max is up at the Kuwait border just now. They are surveying to determine just where the border is. A well has come in in Kuwait, and our No. 7 has come in, so that just where the international line is now takes on great importance. They are also arguing about the southern border of Arabia and the geologists are taking shots at the stars just to determine where the line dividing the British influence and the Ibn Saud influence is.”

From Oct. 1, 1938:

“… An electrician arrived from the [United] States to go to … Riyadh to advise the king on the electrification of his palace. He borrowed my Montgomery Ward catalogue to take to the king so that he could pick out what type of fixtures he would like.”

From Jan. 9, 1939:

“It has rained some, we have had some good thunder storms and things are getting a bit green. Max says that it is a good thing for us that it rained. They have had some dry years and the Bedu were beginning to blame the weather on the Christians.”

From the Arabian Sun, March 3, 1946, there’s this clipping:

“On the last trip up North, Dick Bramkamp shot a hyena, and Max Steineke says they ate the darned thing … in fact, it tasted just like fresh port, and the spareribs were delicious.”

This echoes another clipping which reads: “This is the fifth tour in Arabia for Max. Besides being a one man demon of geology, he is also good hunter, in fact, he is reputed to be one of the best … if he has a hobby outside of geology, hunting it is …”

As for that beloved little girl, Maxine Steineke, once again we read, “[She] is a mathematical wizard, and Max taught her [how] to determine the height of [oil] derricks.”

Max Steineke’s ultimate legacy – amongst the stars

The questions surrounding Max Steineke’s legacy run in a variety of directions. Yes, he found oil, but how much of it is left in Saudi Arabia? Does Max get the credit he deserves for changing the face of the global petroleum industry? Are there other Ghawar fields waiting to be discovered, or have they already been discovered but are kept in secret for now? What about the idea of a “Med Ring,” in which all of the nations surrounding the Mediterranean will set up solar cells to capture the sun’s energy, store it, and sell that energy to Europe during the peak energy seasons in summer and winter? These are more or less all urban legends one hears voiced in various parts of the Arabian Peninsula. And whether you believe them or not, somehow they all come full circle within the story arc of Max Steineke and his contemporaries.

In Saudi Arabia, it’s possible to look backward and to look forward in regard to Max. I spent at least three hours every single day, week after week, and month after month, with some of the very best scientific minds gathered from all around the world. Often we discussed the origins of life and if complex compounds “evolve.” Did a one-celled organism turn into a tadpole, a fish, a frog and then crawl out of the primordial slime only to become a cheetah, a kola, an eagle and an elephant? What about unknown forms of DNA and viruses elsewhere in the universe? Could there be life forms that are not based on carbon and nitrogen and similar elements?

Did you know that in 2012, astronomers working at Copenhagen University detected glycoladehyde in a star system known as IRAS 16293-2422? This sugar molecule is required to form RNA, which functions in a similar manner to DNA. Does this mean that complex organic molecules form in stellar systems even before the formulation of planets?

Since the ancient Greeks believed “discussion to be the highest form of learning,” perhaps this line of reasoning and inquiry informs the future footsteps of Max Steineke. And perhaps this is where his legacy will ultimately benefit humankind. More specifically, geologists like professor Lowe, who carry forward the name of Max Steineke, are influencing the search for the future worlds the human race might colonize. There are billions of planets to consider. Do they exist in “habitable zones”? Do they have suns? Can they support life? Do they have an atmosphere and water? NOVA has produced a remarkable program addressing these issues. It’s called “Life After Earth.” The Kepler mission data concerning Earth-sized planets revolving around habitable zones of sun-like stars in our Milky Way Galaxy can be found here.

Images from the Magellan Telescope in Chile will have 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. A variety of new telescopes will continue the search for exoplanets

In the future, astrobiologists, despite the obstacles, just might find a way to terraform Mars, and mine the moon for energy sources like Helium-3, which would provide energy for the residents of Earth. China and India are already talking about such mining operations on the moon. The BBC documentary, “Moon for Sale,” brings this new gold rush into focus.

Then there’s the theoretical possibility of bringing back fresh water to Earth from outposts within our solar system. On one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, water and ice shoots out from beneath the planet’s surface in giant geysers via a process of “cryovolcanism.” There’s more ice-water contained within the rings of Saturn than on all of Earth – 26 million times more! Saturn’s moon Titan might contain more energy than Earth can possibly use. This new archetype of harnessing needed resources from within our solar system is important, as famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking claims humanity won’t survive another 1,000 years unless we find a way to leave the Earth.

Saturn’s rings contain 99.9 percent pure water and ice – 26 million times more water than can be found on Earth

Capt. Cook charted courses to Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica, and in effect, was busy finding “other worlds.” The 21st, 22nd and 23rd century Capt. Cooks will probably need resumes more like Capt. Kirk. Threats to the fresh water on Earth are very real. Can our solar system provide help? The research on a warp drive mechanism to take spacecraft faster and farther away is also becoming an increasingly real possibility. In the early 1970s, only “Scotty” on the starship Enterprise knew how the warp drive “worked.” Now it’s an actual project at NASA.

Readers should remember that in the 19th century, science fiction author Jules Verne was writing about the use of submarines, the Apollo moon missions (a launch near Florida, a craft missing the moon, circling around the dark side, and then trying to return back as was the case with Apollo 13) and even a future prototype Internet in which you could “pick up the phone and talk to an expert.” Today’s science fiction is sometimes tomorrow’s science fact.

As an example, the momentum for a “Galactic Gold Rush” is gaining rapidly. One notable company is Planetary Resources, which has accumulated top-tier investors ranging from Google to Bechtel Corporation. When a name like Eric Schmidt is bandied about, you’re in the deep end of the pool.

There are precious metals floating around in space, just waiting to be harvested. Consider platinum. At current market prices, one asteroid can provide more value in platinum than twice the gross domestic product of the U.K. Of course successful, massive space mining might depress market prices on Earth.

This great leap forward has occurred because NASA (mired in cutbacks from a government in debt by more than $18 trillion) has finally unleashed American genius and initiative in the commercial and private sphere. Consider a company called Deep Space Industries. They’re following a model in which backing is provided at least to some degree by the government. After all, it was the Spanish throne that paid for Columbus’ astronaut-like mission.

Yet it was the British East India Company, using private mercenaries, which turned India into the Crown Jewel of the British Empire. The Hollywood film “Screamers,” starring Jennifer Rubin and Peter Weller, offers a predictive programming-like look at a futuristic paradigm where transnational corporations wage war on alien worlds over a battle for natural resources needed on Earth.

“During the current prospecting phase, Deep Space revenue sources include providing data to scientists and NASA, and enabling corporate marketers to activate their customers through direct participation in the asteroid adventure,” David Gump, vice chair and director of marketing for DSI explained in a statement. NASA receives vital data and reduces budget outlays in return, while a “Galactic British East India Company” seeks to somehow emerge.

For now, little boys who grow up gazing at the nighttime sky, and who along the way might have watched Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” may one day find themselves visiting Stanford University and Saudi Arabia to learn more about the man some consider to be “The Original Indiana Jones – Max Steineke.” And their children and grandchildren might one day be living and working on the moon, or on Mars, or both. Perhaps one day they’ll find themselves searching for and finding multitudes of Earth-like planets suitable for colonization.

Thanks to men like professor Donald Lowe, the dreams and spirit of Max Steineke will endure, even into the cosmos. Indiana Jones is heading into outer space. (Actually, he was there decades ago – since even before Harrison Ford starred in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” he was popularized as Han Solo in “Star Wars.”) What a grand, beautiful and befitting legacy for Max, Florence, Maxine and Marian. Ultimately, what makes following in the footsteps of Max Steineke so intriguing and rewarding is that it’s the rare quest of journalism in which the end of the story is only the beginning. Could Max have asked for anything more?

A depiction of angels inside the Stanford University Memorial Church

Author’s note: The quest to follow in the footsteps of Max Steineke was one of my grandest and most difficult adventures. I came down with pneumonia in Oman, endured a 103-degree fever, and lost 19 pounds in 19 days. Because of the heat in Saudi Arabia, I was rushed to the hospital with what turned out to be kidney stones. The doctors in the ER feared I might have a ruptured internal organ. They asked me to make my own call about an MRI with dye or without dye. They gave me so much morphine (15 ccs) that my heart rate went down into the 30s in terms of beats per minute. The most morphine they had ever given someone was 30 ccs, and that was to a burn victim. They became very alarmed and gave me several EKGs, but I shook it off to move forward.

At 3 a.m., the doctors said to me, “Anthony, we really are great doctors … just ask our patients.”

I told them, “We can’t go around digging up people just to ask them that …”

I often found myself marching around in temperatures over 120 degrees for days on end to have various meetings about Max Steineke and his work. No one else would have wanted this story that badly. But since Steineke is an archetype of “the original Indiana Jones,” he deserves his great legacy.

As for Stanford University, it recruited me as a student-athlete when I was coming out of high school. Their recruiter was a man named Dick James. He made contact with my high-school football coach, J. Byrne Gamble, a very brilliant, successful, handsome, moral mentor and leader, as well as a devoted husband and father. I did not have the academic excellence at that time to get into Stanford, but even as a teenager I realized it was “the elite.”

Visiting the Stanford campus, sitting in on classes and meeting professors and students is a great honor shared by men like Max Steineke and legions of others. This article could not have been completed without the help I received from the faculty at Stanford, especially the forwarding of the “Max of Arabia” article by Carol L. King to me in Saudi Arabia. To be considered to be a professor at Stanford, whether to teach undergraduates or in one of their fine graduate schools, is truly an honor. These professors have achieved greatness in academia, and they are the engines helping to make Stanford University a world-shaping institution. That said, following the model of the Ancient Greeks, these professors never hesitate to offer one-on-one mentorship and guidance.

Anthony C. LoBaido has published 353 stories on WND from 53 nations around the world.

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