The prismatic colors of Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park don’t typically evoke political discussions, but Tuesday was no ordinary day in the park.
With a federal government shutdown barring visitors from entering national parks around the country, those remaining inside Yellowstone’s boundaries were left wondering whether they would be allowed to stay, and for how long.
“A few people here are just checking their phones to see if there are any updates, and some are just wandering around mumbling things about Republicans,” said Christopher Cauble, a nature photographer from Livingston who was snapping photos in the park’s Upper Geyser Basin.
Cauble entered the park Monday when a shutdown appeared inevitable, and said there were only a fraction of the people typically on hand for a warm, sunny fall day.
“It’s really pretty empty, and kind of strange walking around with so few people here,” said Cauble, who considered himself among the “lucky few” to be in Yellowstone.
Evelyn Burgess was not among the lucky few, and found that her seven-day pass to Yellowstone National Park purchased Monday for $25 was now useless. She was trying Tuesday morning without success to reach someone at the Park Service for a refund.
“I kind of feel like we’re getting screwed over on this deal,” said Burgess, 30, a Seattle bartender who took a week off from work to visit Yellowstone with her mother.
Burgess and her mom spent about three hours in Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, on Monday. They had planned at least two or three more days this week touring the 2.2 million acres of scenic vistas that are home to gray wolves, grizzly bears and more geysers and thermal features than can be found everywhere else in the world.
Burgess estimated she had wasted at least $2,000 in lost wages and travel expenses, including booking a time-share in West Yellowstone, Mont.
“But it’s not just that, it’s also the emotional letdown of planning this whole trip and now not being able to even get into the park,” she said.
Burgess and her mother were deciding Tuesday whether to stay in West Yellowstone and explore the fringes of the park or return home. She said she wasn’t so much angry at members of Congress, just frustrated and disappointed at what she saw as childish behavior.
“Yellowstone Park has absolutely nothing to do with health care,” she said.
A partial government shutdown took effect Tuesday after Congressional Republicans demanded changes to existing health care law as part of a temporary funding bill. National Parks across the country were among the first and most widely affected federal facilities to feel the pinch.
Park employees and others who reside inside national parks will be allowed in and out, officials said, and roads that serve remote and isolated communities or that are transit roads through parks will remain open.
But thousands of taxpayers who had planned trips to enjoy the national parks they fund were greeted with gates and closure notices.
Jack Leighton, 63, visited Zion National Park in Utah on Monday and was headed next for Yellowstone on a cross-country trip starting in California with his grown daughter, who had never visited the national parks that Leighton loved as a child.
“We sat there in a cheap motel in Utah last night, turned on the TV and watched the government go down in flames,” he said.
Leighton and his daughter had planned time in Yellowstone, as well as a visit to Mount Rushmore on their way to Rhode Island.
Leighton said he watched busloads of visitors from Europe and Asia snap photos in Zion National Park, and felt embarrassed that they will be turned away today.
“It’s embarrassing and humiliating, and I can’t tell you how frustrated I am that politics has gotten in the way of the beauty of our country,” he said.
Visitors staying in Yellowstone’s lodges, tents and cabins will eventually be given 48 hours to find other accommodations, although park managers had not yet delivered that ultimatum, said Cody Country Chamber of Commerce executive director Scott Balyo, who sat in on a morning conference call with park superintendent Dan Wenk.