It’s been an interesting week since the National Park Service closed the National Parks due to the U.S. Government being unable to approve a budget for them to operate under. I wrote about this issue earlier this week – highlighting park mismanagement at Death Valley National Park a few weeks ago, and also the closing of Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area. Since then a whole slew of other park related issues have arisen.
Grand Canyon Park Rangers are blocking access to the Colorado River to permit holders who’ve already paid to use the Grand Canyon National Park as their public right of way to the always public Colorado River waters. You see, the water is always public anyone can float on it at any time, but if you use any of the banks within the park you’d be violating the closure.
Visitors to Cooke City, Montana a private area inside Yellowstone National Park are trapped. The only way to access Cooke City is through the Park, and with the Park closed the visitors are marooned there. I hope they’ve got enough food stockpiled to outlast Congress’ current brawl.
Interestingly enough, this week, when some politicians saw what poor publicity it was to close National Parks, a slew of funders came out of the woodwork to piecemeal open the parks back up, including state budgets, private individuals, and even lone-wolf municipalities. This part by part reopening of the Government isn’t the right solution, but hopefully it moves towards a wholesale reopening of the Parks.
We decided to go snoop around Zion National Park, the closest Park to Las Vegas, to see what this prolonged closure was doing for the Park. By all accounts probably nothing at all was happening, but my curiosity got the best of me. We drove up the night before and setup shop on Gooseberry Mesa for for an evening of steaks on the campfire and Backgammon.
Jeana enjoying the sunset with Zion National Park in the distance.
In the morning we headed up the road towards Zion. The Park is typically very crowded with visitors, tour busses, campers, and a few recreaters that even leave the pavement! We were prepared to see the normal slew of visitors stacked up at the gate being turned away but when we got there, we saw a lone ranger working the entrance gate, and no tourists hanging around. Zion is unique in that it houses a Route 9, a thru road from Virgin/Saint George, Utah that accesses Southern interior parts of the state like Bryce and Escalante (also closed). It appeared as if the Route 9 was in fact open, even if Zion was closed.
Route 9 traversing Southern Utah through Zion National Park.
We drove up the Ranger station and exchanged pleasantries. He insisted that he was quite sorry that the park was closed, and we apologized that our government had put him in such an awkward position of manning a closed park. He handed us a small printout that read “FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN,” and instructed us that Route 9 was open, but none of the park services, pull outs, restrooms were open. He reinforced that we were not to stop at any pullout and make our way through the park.
Handout from the National Park Service.
Well, this is kind of funny, the Park is actually closed, but the road through the Park is actually open. Strange. It reminds me a lot of the irregularities of the link about the Grand Canyon above. The river is technically open, but god forbid you use the loading dock on the shore that’s operated by the National Park Service.
So, we decided to drive through the Park road and see what a kind of open, kind of closed park looked like. First things first, we saw some permanent signs for the entrance tunnel on Route 9, that said NO STOPPING. Well, that’s not too strange, they’re always there.
No stopping in the Tunnel!
Making our way through the Tunnel we found that the Park service was indeed upholding their end of the bargain and providing no services what-so-ever, including lighting the tunnel.
Just joking, this tunnel doesn’t normally have lights.
On accessing the more picturesque side of the park, we saw lots of tourists, doing what they normally do – taking pictures from the driver seat! In fact every picture from inside Zion National Park was taken from the front seat of my Tacoma.
Just a normal drive for this Jeep Compass.
These cones aren’t keeping anyone from getting out of their car!
The Park service seemed to understand that it would be rude to actually enforce the no stopping rule. It was almost comical. They’d laid out a few cones on each pull-out but left plenty of room for cars to pull in and out. The Zion Park Rangers know they’ve got one of the most beautiful parks in the entire world, and they have the rare opportunity amongst their other parks to keep a sliver of their park open during this closure. And, they’re making the most of it. They’re being polite, they’re patrolling the entrance, they’re not charing people to drive the public road, and they’re letting the auto-tourers enjoy the views from their cars.
Here’s hoping the government gets out of it’s own way and resumes the pseudo-functional role it was playing before.
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