Tourists Find Ways Around National Parks Shutdown

By  Laurel Morales, Lorne Matalon
October 03, 2013
Laurel Morales
Tourists turned away at Grand Canyon can still see it from this Mount Humphreys sky ride.

If you wanted to check a Grand Canyon hike off your bucket list this week, you’re out of luck. The same goes with Yosemite, Carlsbad Caverns, Big Bend and other national parks in the country.

But many people who traveled thousands of miles to hike, camp or paddle in a national park aren’t letting a government shutdown spoil their vacation. They’re finding there are ways around the park closures.

At the top of Mount Humphreys near Flagstaff, many people who were turned away at the gate of the Grand Canyon have come to take in the views from the nearby ski resort sky ride.

It was a 2,000 mile cross-country trek for Vickey Watson to see the Grand Canyon.

"The day I left North Carolina I knew it was going to happen and I was really, really, really, upset," Watson said. "I just had to come to terms with the fact that there was nothing anyone could do about it."

While it’s not the same, Watson can see the edge of the Grand Canyon from the mountaintop.

"Good, I can say I saw it, can’t I?" she laughs.

Muriel Gaw and her travel companion came from New York to see the Grand Canyon. They had planned to tour several national parks in the Southwest this week.

"I’m retired. I don’t know whether I’d be able to back get out here again. There are so many places in the country I’d like to see. The Grand Canyon is like a marvel. The idea of missing it is very upsetting," Gaw said.

Gaw said she will try to make the best of it, but she’s still frustrated.

"I think we were most angry all these things for vacationers were closed, some more serious programs as well, but that Congress was still getting paid," she said. "And we felt there was something wrong with that picture."

In addition to the distant view, Mount Humphreys visitors who are determined to see the Grand Canyon can camp on forest lands adjacent to the park, or access it from Native American reservation land.

The Hualapai Tribe has seen a spike in tourism at Grand Canyon West, where you can walk out over the canyon on a plexiglass horseshoe-shaped walkway.

And if visitors want to travel down into the canyon they can still visit Supai Village where the Havasupai Tribe lives. This time of year the turquoise-blue water is too cold for swimming but tourists can photograph the incredible waterfalls.

Laurel Morales
Muriel Gaw just bought her ticket to ride the Arizona Snowbowl sky ride. She came from New York to see the Grand Canyon.

In Texas, the Big Bend National Park is an epic landscape of color and rock that hugs the Rio Grande and draws river rafters from around the world.

They see Mexico to their right and the United States to their left as they float down the river.

But the park is closed, and that translates into unexpected, if temporary, revenue for some. Tourists drawn to Big Bend are in wait mode in Marfa, a hub of ranching, art and culture in West Texas. And they’re spending money while they wait.

Not a bad place to hunker down, but not the preferred option for Londoner Matteo Zevi.

“It’s a letdown not to go to the Big Bend, really," Zevi said.

He’s with 25 friends traveling in two vans rented specifically to trek to Big Bend, among them Sheena Goeghan from County Tiperarry of Ireland.

“And so many of us are from so far away and who knows when we’ll be able to get this opportunity again," Goeghan said.

Marfa restauranteur Maiya Keck is conflicted about the unexpected sight of midweek tourists in a tranquil town.

“It puts me in a weird position because I don’t want to think there’s an upside to the government shutdown," Keck said. "But we’ve been extremely busy and I don’t know what to attribute that to, other than the fact that there might be tourists up here that originally planned to be in Big Bend National Park.”

River guide Greg Hennington said he’s hoping to bring rafters on the river in a nearby state park. But that’s not his preferred option either.

“We fight Mother Nature enough. It’s frustrating now to have to fight our own government in terms of getting it to operate properly so that we can enjoy the national park," Hennington said.

He said Big Bend’s beauty isn’t confined to the national park. But while the park is closed, it’s a lot harder to access that remote splendor.