Where Evel Knievel Never Soared: A Wallenda Flies Over the Grand Canyon
Legendary death-defying daredevil Evel Knievel always wanted to jump across the Grand Canyon on his motorcycle. He never did, but his son Robbie managed the feat in 1999. On May 20 of that year, Robbie went soaring 228 feet across a narrow part of the canyon that belongs to the Hualapai Nation. (WATCH) The tribe granted him permission in the hopes of luring tourists. (Editor's note: Evel did make enormous efforts to jump the Grand Canyon, but was blocked from doing so by the U.S. Department of the Interior. He instead turned his attention to Idaho's Snake River Canyon and a 3/4-mile-wide span, which he attempted to cross on a rocket on September 8, 1974. The spectacular attempt, carried by ABC's Wide World of Sports, failed, with Evel crashing. WATCH)
According to National Geographic, Robbie broke his own world record for the longest distance jumped on a 500 cc motorcycle and reached 80 mph on the take-off ramp. Fireworks erupted as he traveled across. Fox News televised the event live, with reporters dramatically announcing that he would plummet 2,500 feet to his death if he failed.
At least three other famous (infamous?) Grand Canyon stunts have been staged over the years, and tonight there's another. And again this will be aired live on TV and like Knievel's, it will take place on Native lands.
Nik Wallenda, scion of the famous Flying Wallendas family and known as “The King of the High Wire,” will traverse the majestic Grand Canyon on a tighrope tonight, without using a harness. And the Discovery Channel is airing the feat live (8 p.m./ET, check local listings), and has a dazzling, dizzying Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda feature on its website (to visit, click HERE).
Wallenda will tightrope walk higher than he’s ever attempted before at 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River, a height greater than the Empire State Building. In 2012, Wallenda became the first person to tightrope walk directly over Niagara Falls from the U.S. to Canada at a height of 200 feet.
“The stakes don’t get much higher than this,” said Wallenda in a Discovery press release. “The only thing that stands between me and the bottom of the canyon is a two-inch thick wire. I’m looking forward to showing the audience a view of the canyon they’ve never seen before.”
Wallenda, 34, said that this latest event will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to walk at such a great height as well as a chance to honor his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, who died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978.
The Grand Canyon, one of America’s most visited tourist destinations, provides a spectacular backdrop to the event. The tightrope crossing will take place in a remote section of the canyon operated by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department.
“We are honored to be a part of this historic event and showcase the beauty that exists on Navajo country,” said Geri Hongeva-Camarillo, media representative for Navajo Parks and Recreation. “The Navajo Nation is home to more than a dozen national monuments, tribal parks and ancestral sites. Many visitors make Navajo Nation one of the top destinations for their travel plans.”
"Navajo Parks and Recreation strives to preserve and protect tribal park land for the enjoyment of all visitors. We use our land and all elements of life as teaching tools for our youth and visitors from afar, we welcome this special event and the community is excited to be a part of it," said Helen Webster, park manager of Navajo Parks and Recreation.
One tribe isn't as happy as the Navajo about this stunt: the Hopi. (Read more: Tribes Have Mixed Feelings About Tightrope Walker Coming to the Grand Canyon) (And David McGrath, professor emeritus of English at the College of DuPage and author of The Territory, really, really hates this event.)
But it will go on, and you can watch it live tonight--if you dare.