October 2022 Newsletter

the power of PLACE

Cabin in Gothic

Dr. John C. Johnson brought RMBL to life. A community has carried it forward.

Dr. Johnson first encountered Gothic on July 4, 1919. He had just finished a PhD in Parasitology at the Univ. of California, Berkeley and he was visiting friends and family in Gunnison for some rest. But by his own admission, Johnson was not someone for whom idleness came easy. He jumped at a friend’s invitation to drive to Gothic. Arriving early afternoon, he was struck by the wildflowers and shadows of Gothic Mountain. Shortly after the visit, Dr. Johnson accepted a position at Western as Dean and Head of Science.

In the 1920’s, along with others, he helped direct the Rocky Mountain Biological Station, a Western-sponsored field station, in the Taylor Canyon several miles above Almont on land set aside by congress for biology. Escaping the influence of the Klu Klux Klan on Western, in 1928 Dr. Johnson moved on to West Chester University of Pennsylvania, abandoning the Taylor vicinity. Remembering both Gothic’s beauty and abandoned buildings, that same summer Dr. Johnson established the Rocky Mountain Biological Station, soon to be rechristened the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, as a 501 c3 non-profit, accepting all responsibility for the finances.

While Dr. Johnson accepted the title as founder of RMBL, he noted that “The very warp and woof of the RMBL is made up of the scores of persons who have given freely of their time, their academic skill, and long hours of work of a very menial kind.” In an article for the Colorado Magazine Dr. Johnson cited community members who made RMBL possible, ranging from local Crested Butte families (e.g., the Yaklich’s, the Verzuh’s, and Mihelich’s), the USFS (e.g., Ranger Clifford Chappell), and county commissioners, listing approximately 50 scientists by name.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL


The Johnson Family on Barclay cabin porch

Paying it forward

According to Doug Johnson, he and his sister Carol Johnson, along with their late brother Dan, won the parent lottery. Their parents, Dorothy and Chris (John C. Johnson Jr.) not only were loving to their children but were nature lovers who believed in letting their children explore the great outdoors. Doug built dams in the water that trickled from the spring near their summer residence. He often went fishing with his dad, digging under cow pies for worms.

Carol lived a young girl’s dream, spending her summers riding her horse through the mountains and even helping the local cattlemen run their cattle into the high country, like a real cowgirl. Both Carol and Doug say it’s difficult to describe how idyllic their childhood was. The word magical keeps coming to mind.

A large part of that magical childhood has to do with where they spent their summers — in Gothic, where their grandfather, Dr. John C. Johnson, founded RMBL in 1928.