For a good number of visitors to Utah, vacation plans quickly became a victim of the shutdown when the barricades went up at the national parks on Tuesday.
Tuesday there was a traffic jam at the entrance to Arches National Park, as surprised visitors encountered the barricade and tried to turn around to leave. Soon, the traffic jams shifted to other local attractions that are not in the national parks, including Dead Horse Point State Park. Local guides and visitor centers were swamped by visitors seeking park alternatives. Tour guide Denise Oblak saw her share at Canyon Voyages.
“National Parks are closed down, no ifs, ands or buts. You know, the gates are drawn, you’re not to go in there, it’s prohibited. BLM, fortunately for us in this area, have been more flexible,” Oblak said.
Oblak said the shutdown has affected just about every kind of Moab vacationer.
“Many of whom are Europeans who have planned their vacations, you know, a year in advance, six months in advance, and they’re very disappointed, they’ve been planning this trip, looking forward to it, and basically they’re out of luck. I’ve heard many choice words about our congressional representatives, most of which you probably can’t put on the air,” Oblak said.
Together, Arches and Canyonlands have furloughed 122 employees, and that leaves a skeleton crew of less than two dozen, not enough to protect the park and facilities or ensure visitor safety. The paved road to Island in the Sky is now closed. In addition, Paul Henderson, assistant supervisor for both parks, said there will be barricades on the gravel access points to Canyonlands, including at Newspaper Rock and at Potash. He said people currently on back country tours, such as river trips and treks on the White Rim Trail, will be allowed to complete their tours, but no new tours are being booked
“We did get notification that the BLM campgrounds are open, people can still camp in them, however there are no services to those campgrounds. In other words, if you want to use the toilet it may or not have been cleaned, actually it probably hasn’t been cleaned, and it is likely to be out of toilet paper because they’re not restocking,” she said.
At the Moab Visitors Center in town, which is run by a nonprofit, manager Sharon Kienzle said she has had to double her staff since Tuesday.
“A lot of the foreign visitors, you know that’s what they’ve planned for for years, to come here and see the national parks, and we feel bad for them. Most of them are upset that the parks are closed. But we really haven’t had anyone that disgruntled.
A lot of people come and they’ll just go to the national parks, and then they don’t even realize we have all these other opportunities for hikes and to go out and see other arches and natural bridges.
“But once they find out that there are so many other things to see, and they can still see this beautiful area without going into the park, they’re pretty pleased,” Kienzle said.
On Wednesday, the parking lot at Negro Bill Canyon was full, and a long line of cars was parked on the highway. Every person I talked to was there because Arches is closed.
You’re from where? “Switzerland.” You had planned for this to be part of your trip? “Three weeks.” Three weeks ago? “Yes.” Are you disappointed? “Yes.” What’s your understanding of what’s going on here? It’s sad for the people who work here.”
“Because of this we’ve met some great people along the way, offering all kinds of suggestions on what to do. Just go out and see other things. On this trail alone we met a gentleman who invited us to go to Fisher Tower. Utah is beautiful. It forces us to see beyond the typical things that people come to see.”
In a sense, Oblak said, Moab’s other treasures have now become more national park-like.
“To go to Negro Bill Canyon and discover a madhouse of a parking lot, traffic jams, is not exactly the experience we would hope for, for people discovering those BLM lands, but that’s the situation we’re in,” Oblak said.
While travelers on the national park circuit are learning to adjust their sight seeing, others, like this man from Park City, have missed out on carefully planned adventures.
“I was scheduled to start a bike tour out of Boulder, Utah this Friday, and that went mostly through BLM lands and part of the national parks and national monuments, and that was canceled by the tour group,” he said.
As yet, no one has any indication when things will change. The Park Service’s Henderson remembers that Arches was closed for 22 days during the Newt Gingrich shutdown of 1995 and 96.