As part of the ongoing Changemaker Series at the Fox Tucson Theatre, Tucsonans have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to listen to award-winning photographer and explorer Pete McBride, as he narrates the behind-the-scenes story of his perilous 750-mile hike across the entirety of Grand Canyon National Park.
After completing the journey, National Geographic named him and his hiking companion, Kevin Fedarko, “Adventurers of the Year”. McBride has released a book about his feat, Grand Canyon Between River and Rim, which won a National Outdoor Book Award. He also made a feature-length documentary, Into the Grand Canyon, for National Geographic Channel, which earned an Emmy nomination and won Best Feature at Banff Mountain Film Festival.
The Grand Canyon has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. In 2016, McBride hiked the entire length of the Grand Canyon National Park—over 750 miles without a trail—to highlight development changes facing this iconic landscape. It was his way of finding meaning in a material world through his photography—by reminding us why we protect such a magical public place.
“I think ‘grand’ is too simple a word for the place. I’m a photographer, and I got the idea to hike the Grand Canyon when I saw it was changing. More people have stood on the moon than have hiked nonstop through the Grand Canyon. Hiking is an effective way to see what’s at risk of being lost if we don’t pay attention. There’s this growing notion that the canyon is for sale,” opines McBride.
At 52 years old, McBride has the energy of a rockstar. He has spent two decades studying the world with a camera. A master photographer, filmmaker and public speaker, he has traveled on assignment to over 75 countries for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Google and the Nature Conservancy, and spoken on stages for TEDx, The World Economic Forum, USAID and more.
McBride is a skilled storyteller. He will bring the grandeur of the Grand Canyon to life during his presentation with words and pictures. A graduate of Dartmouth and a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, McBride resides in Colorado.
Q & A with Photographer Pete McBrideTell us about your first introduction to photography.
My father was an avid filmmaker, so we grew up with him carrying around a video camera on family trips. He had an impact on me for sure.
What made you choose photography as your vocation?
I went to work at a newspaper after college as a writer. I photographed one story I was working on, and the editors loved the photography as much, if not more than, the words. I like the power of photography.
Your lecture at the Fox Theatre is part of the Changemaker speaker series. What are the qualities of a changemaker?
Changemakers are predominately people who work for National Geographic who are storytellers. I’m a visual storyteller. I focus on the untold stories, usually about the environment, the natural ecosystems that keep us all alive and a lot about water, which most of us take for granted. We bring in-depth stories to people about places and wildlife that most people haven’t had a chance to see or experience.
Why should someone come to your presentation about the Grand Canyon?
They should come because they will get to see how stunningly beautiful, remarkably complicated and how extremely fragile the Grand Canyon is. The striking imagery and fun storytelling that’s full of valuable information about this iconic natural landmark, but also humorful storytelling—I use a lot of self-deprecating humor. People will also learn about the importance of native voices in and around the Grand Canyon. There are 11 Native American tribes that call the Grand Canyon home. People don’t realize how important their voices are to the national park system.
Will there be any other photos besides the ones of the Grand Canyon?
In addition to the behind-the-scenes photographs of the Grand Canyon, there will be a collection of exciting images from Mount Everest to Antarctica.
What was the most memorable aspect of hiking the Grand Canyon?
The most memorable aspect was obviously the beauty. Also, the power of the night sky, the power of the silence one can experience down there, the power of the native voices and history, and lastly the deep level of humility that the place teaches us—how small it makes us feel, in a good way.
Why does the Grand Canyon need to be protected?
Even though it’s a national park, it’s not protected as much as we think it is. There are a lot of people who want to turn its beauty into cash. There’s only one Grand Canyon on this planet. It requires each generation to realize how amazing it is, not just for us but for wildlife, biodiversity and water systems. The Colorado River is the source of water for 40 million people and it’s our job to protect it. Biodiversity is like the immune system for the planet and us. The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder of the planet.
Which photographers are inspirational to you?
Annie Griffiths was very influential for me. She was one of my early mentors. Also at National Geographic, wildlife photographer Joel Sartore. He photographs a lot of endangered species. There’s a lengthy list of National Geographic photographers who came before me and inspired me.
Please tell us about the books you’ve published and where we can buy them.
I have published two books with the publisher Rizzoli and my books are for sale wherever books are sold. One is about silence, Seeing Silence: The Beauty of the Beauty of the World’s Most Quiet Places. The other book is about the Grand Canyon: The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim. I’ve also authored a new book, The Colorado River: Chasing Water, which will be out in April. People can learn more about them on my website, PeteMcBride.com.
If attendees would like one of your books signed as a priceless keepsake, would that be an option?
Yes, I will sign books and I will also bring some limited-edition books for sale.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Curious, adventurous and empathetic.
Describe your perfect day.
Spending time with friends and family outdoors.
What book are you reading and what is it about?
I just read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. It’s about a Mexican family migrating north.
What is your life mission?
My life mission is to try to leave the world a better place than I found it when I came in. That’s a big challenge out of my reach, so I try to remind and teach as many people as I can about the value of fresh water and about how to save wild places and wildlife.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto?
There’s one I like by Ben Franklin: “When the well runs dry, we know the worth of water.” I picked that one because right now our wells are running dry, particularly around the Colorado River.
Explore “Into the Canyon: Between River and Rim” with author and photographer Pete McBride on January 31, at 7:30 p.m. at Fox Tucson Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit FoxTucson.com. Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at [email protected].