Picture of Pete McBride in a canoe

Photograph by Pete McBride

Name: Pete McBride

Place of Birth: California, but moved to Colorado when I was a week old

Current City: Basalt, Colorado

Occupation: Photographer, filmmaker, writer, public speaker, and freshwater advocate

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A professional athlete or a schoolteacher if I was injured. I ended up ski racing and playing hockey at a Division I collegiate level and later I taught school part-time. I’d like to think I’m still growing up though, so I might return to teaching one day. I think my competitive hockey days have passed.

How did you get started in your field of work?

My writing started when I worked as an intern at [an environmental magazine] called High Country News after college. My photography started two years later when I worked at a prison rehabilitation program [that involved] putting nonviolent offenders to work in gardens. It was a powerful experience and I felt compelled to document the inmates I worked near.

What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?

In 1999, I flew a WWI replica biplane from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, reenacting the first African air passage. We crashed once, were intercepted by fighter jets near Somalia, and buffeted off high winds near Kilimanjaro. The journey was frightening, exhilarating, and it was remarkable to see the African continent from an open cockpit. It became my first story for National Geographic. Most challenging: Last year I followed the Ganges River, source to sea, for National Geographic. Our team endured a monsoon storm at 18,000 feet and a typhoon near the sea, and I lost 30 pounds in the process.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to freshwater?

Although freshwater supplies continue to become more challenged throughout the world, I am always amazed at how few realize where their water comes from (other than the tap). Educating people about their watersheds, the rivers that connect them, and how this vital resource can be used more wisely inspires me to keep chasing water and rivers around the globe. Having grown up on a cattle ranch in the arid state of Colorado, a place that entirely depends on mountain spring water for irrigation, gave me a profound appreciation for the importance of water and how it sustains us, our food, our wildlife, and our economies.

If you could have people do one thing to help save the Colorado River, what would it be?

Help people become more aware of how all of us in the Southwest contribute to the demise of this remarkable river. We are all users and need to become more aware of that. In addition, I’d love to offer people simple ideas to conserve water in their lives, such as planting more arid-friendly landscaping and/or becoming more involved in public discourse and policy.

What’s a normal day like for you?

There are not many normal days in my business. I travel a lot, either for assignments, work, or lecturing, [so work] can vary from climbing in the Himalaya to speaking to large audiences at a university. To some that might sound very romantic, but there is a lot of time working on computers—editing photos and films. Finding a balance between it all is the hope to create a “normal” day.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to enjoy my local watershed—either boating, fishing, or even surfing the rivers where I live, and in the winter, skiing the Rocky Mountain snowpack that forms those rivers.

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