23 minutes to a dream come true

Wallenda becomes first ever to tightrope walk across LCR Gorge

By Krista Allen
Western Agency Bureau


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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Stuntman Nik Wallenda, left, is dwarfed by the Little Colorado River Gorge while crossing it on only a two-inch steel wire on Sunday evening near Cameron, Ariz.

SECOND FROM TOP: Nik Wallenda holds a press conference Sunday evening after successfully crossing the Little Colorado River Gorge near Cameron, Ariz.

N ikolas "Nik" Wallenda, the most famous tightrope walker alive, was on the Navajo Nation over the weekend for a tramp across the Little Colorado River Gorge, a walk he'd been preparing for his entire life and a walk he did without any safety tether attaching him to his line.

It's a Sunday evening, warm and windy.

Many of the VIPs including actor Gary "Litefoot" Davis and televangelist Joel Osteen were waiting in the spacious white tent where TVs in every corner were set on the Discovery Channel's Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda, the show that aired live across the United States and in 223 other countries.

Just north of the filming site, NBC "Today" co-hosts Willie Geist and Natalie Morales served as the hosts of the event. In fact, NBC News' Peacock Productions produced the jump.

Meanwhile, Wallenda's lifelong dream was about to start when he got into a helicopter that took him to the starting point just across the narrow entrenched meanders known as "Hellhole Bend" where the winds tested the Sarasota, Fla. thrill-seeker.

As he inched across the two-inch thick steel cable suspended 1,500 feet in the air, tailed by the shadow of death, under the blazing sunset, Wallenda made history by becoming the first person ever to cross the 70-million-year-old canyon in 22 minutes and 54 seconds with just a distant ribbon of the Little Colorado River beneath him.

It wasn't a cakewalk.

Foremost, he constantly offered up pubic testament of his strong Christian beliefs when the current of air blowing began to sway the line he stood on.

"Golly, wind. Go away, in the name of Jesus. Thank you Lord. Thank you for calming that cable, God," said the 34-year-old aerialist when he stopped at one point to crouch down on the cable to steady it.

According to a press release provided by Discovery, Wallenda says the Grand Canyon was a place he visited as a kid, and for as long as he can remember it has been a dream to cross over the crimson-hued canyon.

"I'm incredibly grateful to the Navajo Nation for allowing me to accomplish my dream and the Discovery Channel for trusting in my abilities," said the seventh-generation member of the legendary Flying Wallenda family.

Actually, Nik Wallenda is an all-purpose daredevil.

He was part of the world's first eight-person high-wire pyramid in 2001. Seven years later, he set Guinness World Records for the longest and highest bicycle ride on a high-wire 135 feet above the ground in New Jersey, doubling the height record in 2010. Finally the next year, he hung by his teeth from a helicopter hovering 250 feet above the ground.

But Wallenda's skywalks these days are far more treacherous and dramatic like last year's walk over Niagara Falls where he used a safety harness to prevent from plunging 200 feet down the rushing water.

Because he believes a harness creates a false sense of security and diminishes a craft that his family has spent generations learning to perfect, Wallenda made the walk June 23 without a tether, safety net, and margin of error.

The untethered walk was also a chance to honor his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda who died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978, according to the press release.

Media representative Geri Hongeva of the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation explained that the agency entered a confidentiality agreement with Discovery approximately five months ago.

"That's where some of the miscommunication came (from) with the chapters," said Hongeva. "It wasn't just Helen (Webster, the park manager at LCR Tribal Park). It was not a secret that she just withheld."

Since confidentiality agreements define exactly what information can and cannot be disclosed, Hongeva said, "In any production, it's like that."

"(Wallenda) didn't want the word to leak out," said Webster. "(Discovery) wanted to announce it themselves. So as parks and recreation, we worked with him in that way."

Webster explained that LCR is located in a highly sensitive area where it contains the best habitat for endangered and rare plant, animal and game species.

"Because of that, (if) any LCR Tribal Park makes any development or to do anything along this river, we have to abide by (Navajo Fish and Wildlife) policy and do all the clearance," said Webster.

According to parks and recreation, just the land clearances – consent from local land users, archeological, biological, and environmental surveys – alone took more than 10 months to complete.

Navajo Parks and Recreation Department Manager Martin L. Begaye said that NBC hired a contractor to pave a road to the tightrope site and a parking lot specifically for the media.

"(Wallenda) explored other areas, and found out that this was the best location for him because of the close proximity to the Grand Canyon, which he was looking for," Begaye said.

Wallenda's skyscraper-high, nail-biting tightrope walk near the Grand Canyon marks his eighth world record. According to Discovery, he's currently planning his next major feat, which may include stringing a wire between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in midtown Manhattan, New York.

Catering Excellence – Arizona's premiere film production caterer from Glendale, provided food at the filming site.

Contact Krista Allen at editor@navajotimes.com.

Protestors gather against tightrope walk

By Krista Allen
Western Agency Bureau

CAMERON, Ariz. – Several protesters rallied all-day on Sunday along U.S. Highway 89 against aerialist Nik Wallenda's Skywire Walk across the Little Colorado River Gorge.

The demonstrators, many of whom were members of the community highlighted the failure of the Navajo Nation to fulfill its obligation to inform the residents of the Skywire Walk, which was touted as a walk across the Grand Canyon.

"(The Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation) and the tribe … bypassed everybody, they never went to the chapter for clearance," said Lorenzo Robbins. "Wallenda never even came for clearance."

"(The Skywire Walk) is two people's dream: Wallenda's dream and Helen Webster's dream, also parks and recreation's dream," continued Robbins as cars blared by.

Wallenda embarked the afternoon on a walk without a harness or a safety net 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge.

Some miles down the road, approximately 600 spectators were allowed entry at the entertainment site.

"I don't think it's right," said Robbins. "Also it's a fraud because it's now the Grand Canyon."

Mary Martin said that the high wire desecrates an area considered sacred.

"The river is our shielding," said the 83-year-old activist in Navajo, who is part of the Save the Confluence group that is opposed to the development of the Grand Canyon Escalade project. "Our ancestors told us to protect it and not to give contract to a white man."

But life is unfair for Jacqueline Huskie and the rest of the Cameron Vendors.

Huskie says that the LCR Tribal Park office has been treating the vendors unjustly by decreasing their annual income that supports their small business and livelihood.

Back at the protest camp, award-winning singer Radmilla Cody stopped by for a visit. Cody sang and even held up a protest sign near U.S. 89.

Other visitors included Arizona State Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai.

Contact Krista Allen at editor@navajotimes.com