I grew up near Pasadena in Southern California. My father built most of the house we lived in and most of the furniture. He built a "tear drop" trailer (riveted aluminum over a wood frame based on his experience at Lockheed during WWII) and we often camped and surf fished on the coast or at Lake Tahoe or Mexico. My dad built a "Sabot" 8-foot long plywood sailboat (from a 1939 article in Rudder magazine) and we learned to sail. We built a one-room cabin (prefabricated in the garage, loaded in the back of a pickup and built on site) with no electricity and no running water on homesteaded land near 29 Palms in the Mojave Desert.
My older brother and I learned to build things from our father; we gained a curiosity about the natural world from our mother who helped us make rock and mineral, butterfly, insect, and shell collections. We built and repaired model airplanes, rockets, go karts, motorcycles, and cars. I had a "laboratory" with a sink and bunson burner in a small walk in closet. If there were a homeland security in the 1960s, we would have been in prison for rocket and bomb making.
I earned a Bachelor's degree in geology from UC Santa Barbara in 1972. As an undergraduate, I started out in mechanical engineering. My second year, I changed my major to physics because I wanted to know more of the "why" of things and because I wanted to take classes in other subjects outside of the College of Engineering. Physics became too abstract. Next, I majored in religious studies for a year. Interesting, but my fundamental nature needed something more concrete. Geology was the resolution of my interests - combining theory and "feet on the ground" application. My mentors at Santa Barbara were Bob Webb and Don Weaver.
After graduation, I worked for a few years for consulting companies in engineering geology, foundation engineering, seismic safety, and geologic hazards in Ventura, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. This was in the mid-1970s and there was a lot of hillside development. I learned how to chase earthmovers around a grading site, log boreholes, map faults and landslides, and write reports.
After working for a few years, I returned to graduate school at UC Davis with a focus on hydrology, taking courses in several departments, including civil engineering; soil science; land, air, and water resources; and geology. I completed a master's degree in geology, including a thesis in surface water hydrology and geomorphology, in 1981.
After graduate school I went to work for David Todd in Berkeley. At the time, I was involved in amateur bicycle racing and working for a small engineering office in Davis (I was modeling stream flow, sediment transport, and rainfall-runoff on mainframe FORTRAN codes with punch card input). A classmate mentioned that David Todd wanted a geologist and since she was not available, would I be interested? I accepted the job, completed my stalled Master's thesis, and moved to Berkeley. I actually completed my education in groundwater hydrology while working with Dr. Todd, who wrote one of the first textbooks on the subject. I was excited by the potential applications of microcomputers (beginning with an "Osborne 1") to the mathematics and digital models of groundwater. The bamboo slide rule gave way to the programmable calculator (HP-41), which gave way to the microcomputer.
I left Todd in 1988, seeking a larger company and new challenges. I worked for several other consulting firms over the next ten years. The house I was living in in the Berkeley hills burned to the ground in the 1991 fire. I married, rebuilt the house, and had two children who are now in high school and college.
After some time, I became dissatisfied with being a specialist or manager in a large company. I preferred to talk directly to clients, to see the bigger picture, to have a hands on role, and to be responsible for achieving results. I started Ulrick & Associates in 1997.