After our grand hike on Widforss Trail, instead of returning immediately to our campsite, we went to the Grand Canyon Lodge campus to hit the North Rim Visitor Center one last time. It was the late afternoon of Saturday, September 17, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to linger at Grand Canyon National Park the next morning waiting for the visitor center to open if we wanted to get back to Phoenix in time for our flight home.
The morning of Saturday, September 17 was clear and warmer than the previous morning. Our plan for the final full day of our Grand Staircase adventure was to hike the Widforss Trail, a ten-mile round trip through the forests of the Kaibab Plateau to Widforss Point. Widforss Point, which provides a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, is the type of viewpoint that on the developed South Rim would be served by shuttle buses and a packed parking lot. But because it was on the far less developed and less visited North Rim, it was accessible only to hikers and backpackers.
By 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday, September 16, Sean and I were back in the general vicinity of Grand Canyon Lodge. The Visitor Center had not been open in the morning when we went to breakfast, so we stopped in and stamped our passports for Grand Canyon. We also noted the times of sunset and moonrise and the time of the ranger talk at the campground amphitheater, all of which we wanted to experience.
We had a busy evening ahead of us, so we headed back to camp to relax for a bit.
It was already 5:45pm (Utah time) on Thursday, September 15 by the time we drove away from Zion National Park en route to the final National Park in our descent of the Grand Staircase.
Grand Canyon National Park was the first National Park I’d visited, twenty-four years earlier when I was thirteen years old. Back before that trip with my aunt and uncle and cousins, I’d read everything I could about the canyon in my Catholic grade school’s small library. I had become enchanted with photos of black Kaibab Squirrels with their tufted ears and white tails. But the squirrels are only found on the North Rim, and on that long-ago trip we’d visited the South Rim. This would be my chance to see a Kaibab Squirrel.
We woke in pre-dawn light on Thursday, September 15. Wind whipped our tent. And the decision that we had been increasingly fretting about was made for us by the wind.After the splendid performance the previous evening, we’d returned to our campsite and rekindled our campfire. We’d tried to turn in relatively early since we’d wanted to be up early to make an attempt at Angels Landing before it became crowded (we were aiming to be on the first shuttle into the restricted portion of Zion Canyon). Since we’d both had a faint signal on our phones, we’d read up a bit more on the hike. In particular, Sean had gotten his first real taste of news items about Angels Landing. The news stories of deaths on the route in the previous decade and a half hadn’t comforted either of our nerves. Nor had they helped me sleep.
After dinner in our campsite on September 14, Sean and I wandered over to the Watchman Campground amphitheater for the evening’s ranger program. On the schedule was “Concert in the Park: Plants, Animals, and live music.”
We got to the amphitheater a couple minutes late, and as we were walking up, we heard an earnest young man singing with guitar accompaniment. He was singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” with altered lyrics to make the song applicable to Zion National Park. We froze, wondering if this would be a somewhat embarrassing evening. Sean has intense emotional reactions to people doing somewhat embarrassing things onstage…poor standup say. But we decided to give it a go.
It turned out that Ranger Taylor, the performer, was disarmingly earnest and completely charming. More often than not, his adaptations were clever and illuminating (the best were “Rollin’ to the River” about erosion in Zion Canyon and “Free Falling” about Peregrine Falcons, the fastest birds on earth). He conjured up an image of a creative, wholesome young National Park Service ranger spending his first summer in Zion taking everything in and reacting to the experience by writing songs on his trusty guitar.
As the program came to a close, he said, “We’re technically done for the evening, but for those who want to stay just a little longer, let’s sing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ together. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it?”
And so we did.
After lunch on September 14, we hopped back on the Zion National Park shuttle to explore points in Zion Canyon north of Zion Lodge, namely Weeping Rock and the Temple of Sinawava. It was already 3pm by the time we boarded. Our only full day in Zion was moving swiftly.