On November 15, 2016, evening approached the Dry Tortugas, and some of us made our way toward Bush Key, which we had dubbed “Bird Island,” for the sunset. Twenty-four hours after first wandering out onto Bush Key for the previous evening’s sunset, the island not only felt more expansive, but this short walk felt like a trek (in a good way), even though it was less than a mile.
As late afternoon arrived on Garden Key on November 14, 2016, the vast majority of the island’s inhabitants outside of Fort Jefferson were lounging and relaxing.
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.
After taking in the views at Cape Royal, we drove a short way north on the Walhalla Plateau to Cliff Spring Trailhead for a hike before lunch on Friday, September 16. Cliff Spring Trail drops beneath the rim of the Walhalla Plateau into a steep canyon until it reaches a natural spring about half a mile from the trailhead. The trail continues for another half mile before it peters out. Theodore Roosevelt camped at Cliff Spring during a 1913 hunting trip to the North Rim.
Late morning on Friday, September 16, Sean and I climbed into the Jeep and departed North Rim Campground for the Walhalla Plateau, which juts some fourteen miles south into the canyon from the end of the Kaibab Plateau. That morning at breakfast, we had seen the primary view into the canyon from the busiest point on the North Rim (the equivalent of driving into Grand Canyon Village and having a look from the South Rim), but now we wanted to spend the day seeing other aspects of the Grand Canyon from its North Rim. In part because of the Walhalla Plateau, the views from the various vantage points on the North Rim are more varied than those on the South Rim. Our intention was to spend the greater part of the day on the Walhalla Plateau.
After lunch on September 15, we weren’t quite finished yet with Zion National Park. That night, we’d be camping on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but before heading south to our final stop on the Grand Staircase, we had one more Zion adventure complete: East Mesa Trail. The out-and-back trail is a three-mile one-way route to Observation Point across relatively flat country from the eastern Park boundary to the rim. Unlike Yosemite National Park, where the road to Glacier Point offers views from the rim to thousands of people a day, all of the rim views at Zion must be earned by hiking.