On September 7, 1970, the first known parachute jump took place at the Royal Gorge Bridge. Donald Boyles of Tulsa, Oklahoma used a limp hang glider (one that opened after he jumped) to make his 358th jump. He and a coworker, also a fellow parachute jumper, David Lomax, discussed the possibility of jumping off the bridge and decided it was feasible though dangerous. Due to high winds that blow through the gorge, controlling the direction and landing are very difficult. The day before the jump, Don and David went to the bridge to assess the conditions and locate a good landing spot. The next morning, they arrived early at the bridge, and due to Don having more jumps than David’s 25, they decided David would just take pictures while Don did the jump. The car was driven to the middle of the bridge, Don and David got out, and after a few pictures, Don jumped from the east side of the bridge. It took about four seconds for the hang glider to open because the chute wasn’t getting as much air as it would have from a higher height. Don was unable to make it to the point he had planned on landing and instead had to land on a hillside causing him to sprain his ankle. Don ended up riding the incline railway up to the top because of his ankle. At the time there were no ordinances concerning people parachuting off the bridge so no charges were ever filed against Boyles. He later donated the parachute to the museum which is here in our collection.
In 1981, an ordinance was enacted that prohibits “all parachuting, skydiving, hang gliding or other restrained or unrestrained form of ascent to or descent from the bridge, incline railway, train or canyon walls, located in Royal Gorge Park”. Two people parachuted off the bridge in 1984 and got slapped with the fine. One of them also earned themselves a fractured wrist for their stunt. Over time, others have paid for parachuting off the bridge both in fines and injuries, and sadly too often, their lives.
Other stunts that have taken place at the Royal Gorge have included tightrope acts, swings, and bungee jumping. People come into the Royal Gorge to film stunts for commercials, shows, and movies. And sometimes they even do it to test out products, like Eric Scott in 2008. Scott worked for “Go Fast Sport” which was working on creating a jet pack. The hydrogen-peroxide powered jet pack took him 1,500 feet across the gorge in just 21 seconds although he was blown off course just a bit by the wind forcing him to have to maneuver just a bit away from the bridge to make it to his landing site. In the end he had 12 seconds of fuel to spare!
Want to learn more about the Royal Gorge? Stop by the museum Wednesday-Saturday between 10 AM – 4 PM to tour the museum or visit our reading room!
The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.