Shutdown wrecks long-planned vacations at Yellowstone Park

About two dozen visitors to Yellowstone National Park watch Old Faithful Geyser erupt Tuesday afternoon despite a sign advising that the attraction is closed in the wake of a federal goverment shutdown. No visitors were allowed into national parks Tuesday, while those already inside park boundaries will be asked to leave.

About two dozen visitors to Yellowstone National Park watch Old Faithful Geyser erupt Tuesday afternoon despite a sign advising that the attraction is closed in the wake of a federal goverment shutdown. No visitors were allowed into national parks Tuesday, while those already inside park boundaries will be asked to leave. (photo © Christopher Cauble)

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.

6 thoughts on “Shutdown wrecks long-planned vacations at Yellowstone Park

  1. What twisted logic we see working here. Yellowstone has since the early 2000’s been allowed to keep 50-60 percent of its own gate receipts for its own operation, thanks to some great legislation by the late conservative Republican Senator Craig Thomas of Cody. previously , the Parks entire haul of money went t the US Treasury General Fund and the Parks were then at the whim of Congress for its operating budget . Anyone will tell you that Yellowstone has been underfunded since at least the Reagan era when Secretary of the Interior James Gaius Watt wanted to privatize all of Yellowstone and even mine it, log it, and develop the bejeezus out of it.

    My point is two fold: Yellowstone s a net moneymaker for the US government since it takes in kopre than it is given back to run with . But applying the Craig Thomas coefficient, Yellowstone easily raises enough money day by day to pay for those personnel and expenses needed to keep the gates open and the Park running smoothly. Keep in mind that all the basic services inside Yellowstone are contracted out to the private concessionaires such as Xanterra and cost the government nothing. In fact they get a commission on all sales…when those concessionaires are open, that is.

    Xanterra apparently had to idle a thousand employees when Yellowstone was forced to shut down yesterday. This is a Lose-Lose situation all around.

    It defies logic. I will shortly be communictaiong this folly to Wyoming’s All Republican All The Time congressional delegation. Except their phones, e-mail, and office staff are also furloughed. How convenient.

  2. “She said she wasn’t so much angry at members of Congress, just frustrated and disappointed at what she saw as childish behavior.”

    If childish behavior by members of Congress doesn’t make you angry, what does? Give me a break. It’s solely the fault of those idiots in Congress, especially the Republicans who insist on connecting the unrelated health care issue. Let’s see if the voters have the balls in the next election to throw all these bums out. My guess is they even don’t show up at the polls again – same ol’ song and dance.

  3. I’m sympathetic for your interviewees from the US, but spare a thought for those of us from Europe (or elsewhere outside the US) who have spent much more to vacation in the US’ national parks and have had our holidays ruined. How about the Government recompense us in the same way that BP was (rightly) required to recompense people in the southern US who suffered losses because they didn’t take decisions properly?

  4. Sorry but the republicans are not to blame for the assanine behavior of a petulant administration trying to inflict as much pain on the public as possible and demonize the republicans as the culprits. This president has no interest in a “United” States of America. He wants a OSA not a USA. This country needs politicians who work together. It isnt perfect and these impasses happen — it isnt something new. Praying for some common sense on both sides to work thru our problems and donthe jobs they were elected to do. Just don”t blame the GOP for the ridiculous behavior of the Dems!

  5. It may sound selfish, but I am 60 husband is 63, and we have worked our entire lives supporting these national parks and the government in the hopes to visit them someday. Our plans were made earlier this past summer and here we are sitting outside the gates of yellowstone and grand Tetons national park. And because the little boys and girls in congress and the Oval Office and all the puppet masters that hold the strings on the one sitting in the Oval Office can’t get along the rest of us are punished! Blaming each other is what children do in grade school. Have these people not grown up? And how is it that they receive their salaries and benefits while they have chosen to shut down our parks? This is a pathetic administration with no obvious leadership skills except to lead us into disaster!

  6. How about this Washington. Play a football game and whoever wins gets their way! If the other team wins the next game (the next week) then they get to do what they want. Maybe you can use your congressional gym to get into shape. This is fun. Obama could be the democrats quarterback! He always acts like he’s a jock. Lol