Wallenda tightrope walk over Arizona canyon benefits Navajo Nation

June 23, 2013

Nik Wallenda is scheduled to make the big walk across a northern Arizona canyon Sunday at 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. The Florida daredevil will attempt to cross a portion of the Little Colorado River on a wire tightrope. 

Wallenda Nik Wallenda walks a tightrope in the rain during a training session for his stunt in Niagara Falls, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of Gary Wiepert-AP via NPR)

Last year, Wallenda crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. His walk across the Arizona canyon will be televised live by the Discovery Channel. 

Wallenda explained in a promotional video that he planned to walk across long thin cable without using a net or any other safety devices more than 1,500 feet above the canyon floor.

“I could live or I could die but I think as the viewers are watching they’re on that wire with me and I think they’re cheering me on hoping that I make it to the other side safely," Wallenda said.

Members of the Navajo Nation will be rooting for Wallenda. The Little Colorado River Gorge where Wallenda will perform his stunt is located on the western edge of the Navajo reservation. Navajo Nation spokeswoman Geri Hungeva said the biggest concern is gusty winds that could make it hard for Wallenda to keep his balance.

“He is training for that and he’s well aware of that.  He has been in this area multiple times and he’s been here on a very windy day so he knows what it is like," Hungeva said.

Wallenda estimated it will take about 45 minutes to make it from one side of the canyon to the other. The Discovery Channel has dedicated two hours of air time for the broadcast, and Hungeva said that means great publicity for the Navajo tribe.

“If you look at this from an advertising or promoting standpoint, ultimately the Navajo Nation would not be able to afford such a promotion of this magnitude," Wallenda said. "(It's) two hours live to be seen in 103 countries, so this is a great opportunity for tribal tourism on the Navajo Nation.”

The tribe has scored in other ways. Wallenda’s production company has paved a road to the remote canyon where the Navajos have a tribal park.  They hope the improved access will bring more people to see the Little Colorado River Gorge not too far away from Grand Canyon National Park. 

Twenty-five years ago, a French tightrope walker named Philippe Lafitte tried to cross the gorge unsuccessfully in the same spot where Wallenda will make his attempt.  Hungeva said remnants of Lefitte’s stunt are still visible on the canyon’s edge.

“He left a lot of things behind. He left a lot of cable there," Hungeva said. "He left the rigging there, a lot of junk, and it was an eyesore to have a junk pile at this location. So, Nik Wallenda has agreed to clean up Philippe Lafitte’s mess.”

Some Native Americans in the area have mixed feelings about Wallenda’s tightrope walk. Members of the Hopi tribe have characterized the event as a publicity stunt, and they say Wallenda is using a portion of the canyon they consider sacred. 


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