McKittrick Canyon - The Park's Beginning
McKittrick Canyon attracts thousands of visitors each year to enjoy its hidden beauty and spectacular fall colors. The canyon is open to the public due to the generosity of Wallace Pratt and his family, who donated the land to the National Park Service around 1960.
Wallace Pratt - Exploration Pioneer
Born in Phillipsburg, Kansas, March 15, 1885, Pratt began his career in geology as an assistant with the Kansas Geological Survey shortly after he graduated from the University of Kansas in 1907 with a bachelor's degree.
From 1909 to 1916, he worked in Philippines, becoming chief of the Division of Mines there in 1912. He returned to the U.S. in 1916, and in 1918 joined Humble as the company's first geologist. Prior to that time the company had treated the search for oil as largely a hit or miss operation without scientific exploration. But Pratt, joined by 10 more geologists during 1918-19, proved that geology was an important factor in finding oil.
Among the most notable early contributions made by Pratt and his staff were geological studies that led to the correct interpretation of the structure of the huge Mexia field, discovered in October 1920 in East Texas. On the basis of these studies, Humble bought leases on the structure and developed substantial reserves and production. This work and leasing of large amounts of acreage that proved productive in Powell, Texas, in 1923 firmly established Humble as an oil producer.
Pratt also played a prominent role in the scientific progress of his profession. As early as 1922, others were using geophysical instruments experimentally on the Texas Gulf Coast as a new method for finding salt domes. After studying results from this work, Pratt concluded that Humble should use geophysical instruments and methods. In line with these recommendations, in 1924, Humble set up a geophysics group and established a shop in Houston for geophysics research and development, and the manufacture of a refraction seismograph recording in the field.
Pratt served as Humble's chief geologist and later director, and vice-president In 1937 he joined Standard Oil Co. (Humble's parent firm in New Jersey), once again rising to director, executive committee member, and finally, vice-president, a position he held until he retired from the company in 1945.
After retirement Pratt served on the National Security Resources Board for 2 years and began a long career as a consultant geologist. Pratt wrote more than 100 geological papers during his lifetime, including "Oil in the Earth," one of the most widely read books in his profession.
One of the founders of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Pratt was elected fourth president of the association in 1920. He was the first recipient of the AAPG's Sidney Powers Medal, awarded in 1945. In 1972 he received the AAPG's Human Needs Award. He also received the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers' Anthony F. Lucas Medal in 1948, and the American Petroleum Institute's Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 1954. He was director of API for many years. Pratt was inducted into the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum's Hall of Fame in1969 and was named Grand Old Man of Exploration in 1976 by directors of the International Petroleum Exposition.
Most notably though, Wallace E. Pratt donated 5,632 acres, which included McKittrick Canyon, to the National Park Service, forming the core of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Wallace E. Pratt, pioneer U.S. exploration geologist, died December 25, 1981 in his Tucson, Arizona home. He was 96.
Last updated: February 24, 2015