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The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim by Pete McBride

The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim is a coffee table book showcasing the adventure Pete McBride and his friend Kevin Fedarko took through the Grand Canyon. Their trek was not the popular “rim to rim” hike that many take. This extreme journey, assigned by National Geographic Magazine, was an epic 750-mile ramble from end-to-end of one of the most magnificent national parks in the United States.

The Grand Canyon, formed by the famous Colorado River, is a common bucket list destination for many. You can see thousands of photos, read hundreds of adjective-laced essays about it, but the only way to experience the Grand Canyon is by visiting it. So why bother with a hefty 200+ page book loaded with photographs of a place you must immerse yourself in?

The Photographs

There is no denying that Pete McBride is an amazing photographer. He captures scenes with an artistic eye, but also finds locations that you can only access by some serious effort, including advanced climbing. He also spent a lot of time in the canyon environment, showcasing vantage points at different seasons, weather and time of day.

Some of my favorite shots are those when there is snow at the canyon. It seems so incongruent in a place known for its hotness. Other notable photos are the night time shots of stars and the photo merge of helicopter traffic at “Heli Alley”, showing 363 helicopters crossing his camera’s lens in eight hours.

Some of the misses for me were the overabundance of “person on ledge” shots. These are not only all too common, but seem to encourage fools to test their luck on what is actually a quite dangerous thing to do. I also noticed a lack of wildlife. Maybe this is more the reality of the canyon, but there are only a handful of shots of reptiles, amphibians, insects, and a few plants. I don’t believe there was a single bird.

The Text

The story behind this epic journey is well written. They traveled the 750 miles in chunks and each segment is documented with entertaining detail. McBride is highly critical of the commercializing of the Grand Canyon and rightfully so. There are too many touristy monstrosities planned around (in?) the canyon that should never be allowed.

That said, it is a difficult line to tow. We want to protect wild areas and keep them as pristine as we can. Too many visitors diminishes the experience for everyone. But we also want to avoid the common idea of extreme adventurers that they should be allowed to see it, but others should not. Not everyone has the luxury to take weeks of time away from work, purchase all sorts of expensive gear, or even have the skills to reach hard to access places.

But I’m on the side that we should encourage people to explore. We shouldn’t damage the view in the process, but we all need to love and protect the natural beauty of this great country, including the Grand Canyon.

Pete McBride has another excellent book called Seeing Silence. In this photographic gem he traverses all over the world seeking out places where the only sounds one hears is nature.

Kevin Fedarko is the author of The Emerald Mile, a story about the fastest boat journey down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon.