McBride captures the majesty, misery of Colorado River | AspenTimes.com

McBride captures the majesty, misery of Colorado River

A Cocopah fishing boat sits in the now dry Colorado River delta just 5 miles north of the Sea of Cortez on the Baja/Sonoran Desert, Mexico.

BASALT – For 21⁄2 years Basalt photographer Pete McBride scoured the Colorado River corridor for images to chronicle how humans depend on the iconic waterway and what that dependency has wrought.

He came up with roughly 15,000 images, many of them shot while flying the entire length of the river. McBride traveled the 1,450 miles to get the shots – from the river’s headwaters in the Colorado mountains to the sandy Mexican delta where the river once flowed to its historic destination at the Sea of Cortez.

Some of the most stunning shots will be displayed at the gallery of the Wyly Community Arts Center in Basalt in an exhibit that opens Friday with a receoption from 6-8 p.m., and continues through Nov. 22. The Wyly is in its new home at the former Basalt library building in Lions Park.

McBride concentrated on getting images while flying over the river corridor because of the different perspective it offers. The aerial shots allow the river to be viewed more as a living entity, he said. When you try to absorb a tree, you don’t just look at a leaf; and when trying to understand what’s going on with the Colorado River and its major tributaries, it helps to get that bird’s eye view.

“Getting above things, that perspective highlights the human footprint,” McBride said.

He flew nearly half of the river’s length with his dad, pilot John McBride. “That was pretty fun. I got to hire my father and be his boss for a change,” the younger McBride said.

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He covered the entire length of the river with Bruce Gordon, an Aspen conservationist and pilot who concentrates on environmental causes.

McBride also hitched rides in a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter, which is used to search for drug runners, and a crop duster that skimmed the ground in agriculturally-rich Southern California.

McBride also floated sections of the river, including the Grand Canyon twice. He teamed in the river near the headwaters and in the Mexican delta with Carbondale author Jon Waterman, who floated the entire length of the river and wrote about the experience in “Running Dry: A Journey from Source to Sea Down the Colorado River.”

The two collaborated for the photo show and on a related book coming out next month. Waterman wrote the captions for the photos in the show and he provided much of the text for the book, “The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict.”

Waterman’s powerful book and McBride’s stunning images provide a potent one-two punch that educate anyone concerned about the West and its future about the challenges facing the Colorado River.

“I’m an average Coloradan,” McBride said. ” I didn’t really know where the river went and wasn’t really aware of its fate.”

The experience made him concerned about the future. The Colorado River is already over-allocated and the demand for its life-sustaining waters will intensify in the next decade.

“We think we have a lot of water, but with the pressures of population growth, we don’t have a lot of water,” McBride said.

The two men witnessed, while hiking in the muck and dry sand of the Mexican delta, that the river no longer flows to the sea, and hasn’t for about a decade. McBride wants to build awareness, so people of the West can make better decisions about the use of the river.

While hanging the photo at the Wyly on Wednesday, Waterman said McBride’s aerial shots will drive home the gravity of conditions for people who have read his book, and will open the eyes of people who aren’t familiar with the issues.

“When they see the picture of the river dying, that’ll get them,” he said, referring to the last shot in the show.

McBride’s images are already winning accolades. He was the winner in the series in environmental conservation category in the Fotoweek DC 2010 Festival.

The 19 photos in the Basalt show flow sequentially down the river. All shots are 36 by 50 inches. From Basalt, the show will travel to Grand Junction, Denver and Salt Lake City.

scondon@aspentimes.com