Museum announces keynote speaker


Last updated 8/9/2022 at Noon

Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is one of the most widely recognized and beloved landscapes. It is also surrounded by threats that include uranium mining activity, helicopter traffic, and real-estate development. To explore this paradox, author Kevin Fedarko teamed up with friend, National Geographic photographer and filmmaker Pete McBride, and together the two men journeyed on foot through the heart of the most iconic national park in America. It became an odyssey of almost 800 miles, nearly none of which involved a trail.

Fedarko, an acclaimed writer who told the tale in The New York Times bestseller “The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon,” will share insights about the Grand Canyon in his presentation titled “Beneath the River of Shooting Stars: Beauty, Hardship, and Grace in the Grand Canyon” at the High Desert Museum on Thursday, September 22 as the keynote speaker for the 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize.

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize honors literary nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place, and desert literacy with the desert as both subject and setting. The evening also includes a reception and the awarding of the 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize by this year’s guest judge, Raquel Gutiérrez. Gutiérrez is an MFA faculty author at OSU-Cascades. A 2021 recipient of the Rabkin Prize in Arts Journalism, their writing has appeared in Art in America, The Georgia Review, and on NPR Music. Gutiérrez recently published a memoir, “Brown Neon.”

Caroline Tracey, winner of the 2022 Waterston Desert Writing Prize, will read at the event as well. Her submission, “Salt Lakes,” is a collection of 18 essays providing a queer perspective on climate change in arid environments. Salt lakes make up approximately one third of inland waters globally and provide crucial wildlife habitat. These important bodies of water are shrinking and becoming more saline due to increased evaporation from a warming climate, secondary salinization from irrigation of desert soils, and other factors.

Tracey is based in Tucson, Arizona, and focuses her work on culture, environment and migration in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and the borderlands between the two. Her personal essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Full Stop, New South and elsewhere. She holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Berkeley and lives with her wife, Mexican architect and sculptor Mariana GJP, and their dog, between Tucson and Mexico City. Tracey speaks and writes in English, Spanish, and Russian.

“We are honored to have an amazing lineup for this year’s Waterston Desert Writing Prize,” said Museum Executive Director Dana Whitelaw, Ph.D. “Kevin Fedarko’s extensive research on and time spent in the Grand Canyon make for deep storytelling about this iconic desert place — all of which fits into the Prize’s aim to elevate desert landscapes through literary nonfiction. And Caroline Tracey’s experiences with salt lake ecosystems will undoubtedly inspire and spark discussion. We’re so pleased to welcome them both.”

The Waterston Desert Writing Prize Award Ceremony will start at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 22, at the High Desert Museum. Tickets are $7, with a 20 percent discount for Museum members. Learn more at


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