The famous song, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” by Cinderella took on a whole new meaning when we visited Joshua Tree National Park. It’s hard to fully appreciate our National Park rangers and all that they do until they are gone. Our trip to Joshua Tree had been planned long before the Federal Government shut down. As we got closer to our visit, however, I realized that the Government shutdown might affect accessibility in National Parks. While I felt concerned, I didn’t want to cancel my plans. So we moved forward and visited Joshua Tree National Park on December 27-28, 2018. Thankfully, the park remained open to the public, even during this prolonged government shutdown. That said, there were many side effects. In light of that, I wanted to write a quick post about how the Federal Government shutdown affected our visit to Joshua Tree National Park.
1. The Visitor’s Center was Closed to the Public
The first effect we noticed from the Federal Government Shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park was the Visitor’s Center. We parked and walked up to the doors of the Visitor’s Center only to find them locked. I could see a TV on inside through the glass, so I am assuming that someone was there to prevent looting and vandalism. However, we could not enter. Sadly, I couldn’t buy my collectible token or Travel Stamp. No souvenirs for the kids and no photography advice from a ranger. To be so close and not to be able to enter was frustrating to say the least.
2. Flush Toilets were Closed to the Public
The second effect we encountered at Joshua Tree National Park from the Federal Government Shutdown was the use of public flush toilets. There they were right in front of us, locked. We had driven 8 1/2 hours with few stops and, quite frankly, needed to pee. But we were not able to access the flush toilets. I felt worried about my kids surviving on the long hikes without a bathroom. We ate a picnic lunch and then decided to reassess what we needed to do. As we went back to our car, we saw a homeless man huddled under a blanket close to the toilets at the Visitor’s Center. I wondered why he was there and what his story was.
3. The Pay Station was Closed, Allowing Free Access to the Masses
Another side effect of the Federal Government shutdown resulted in free access to the National Parks. Because there were no National Park rangers there to collect entrance fees, masses of visitors entered Joshua Tree National Park, free of charge. This didn’t really affect us as we had a National Parks Pass. Still, I thought about the thousands of dollars not collected that could have been used to help support and beautify our National Parks.
4. Vault Toilets Were Overrun and Left Without Toilet Paper
The next thing I noticed as a side effect of the Federal Government Shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park was the condition of the vault toilets. There were long lines, for one thing. After I finally got in, I realized that there was no toilet paper left. Urine was all over the floor and it smelled like a septic wasteland. Soiled toilet paper rolls had been carelessly tossed on the floor, soaking up the urine and I was left with nothing to use. It never really occurred to me how these vault bathrooms were cared for by our National Park Rangers and staff until then. Thankfully, my husband had me covered and rescued me with some spare tissue paper just in time. This condition was on December 27, 2018. I can only imagine how bad it must be as of this writing (1/7/19) as the Federal Government is still closed.
5. The Campgrounds were Packed and Squatters Dotted the Landscape
Another effect of the Federal Government Shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park was the campgrounds. They were PACKED! We saw tents in all the sites as well as spotted across the landscape. With no rangers to supervise, the people came. At least they were enjoying this magnificent National Park. But still, I was surprised at how many people came and squatted.
6. Parking was difficult to find and people parked illegally
Speaking of people, I was shocked at how many came to Joshua Tree National Park in cold December. The parking lots were packed! We saw cars all over parked illegally.
Thankfully, we found parking after circling a few times around and were able to complete our hike along the Barker Dam Trail.
I must say, it was beautiful in spite of the circumstances.
7. People were Left to Their Own Devices
With the Federal Government shut down, there were no safety personnel on hand. I saw bouldering enthusiasts all over, carrying their crash pads and walking wherever they wanted. While Joshua Tree National Park is a bouldering playground, I wondered what would happen if someone got stuck or injured? Cell reception was abysmal in the park. Who would respond in case of an emergency?
In spite of the setbacks from the Federal Government shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park, we still fully enjoyed our visit. For the most part people were respectful.
Apparently, this was not the case at all National Parks. According to their Instagram post, Death Valley National Park stated that human waste and vandalism was so bad that large areas of the park had to be shut down entirely.
While the Federal Government Shutdown Affected Joshua Tree National Park for the Worse, it is Still Beautiful and Well Worth a Visit
While I’m sad that National Park Employees can’t do their jobs and possibly can’t make their bills, I am grateful that we have National Parks. These protected lands are magnificent!
I hope that our lawmakers can figure things out soon so that we can continue to fully enjoy our National Parks.
I’m glad that I was still able to visit Joshua Tree National Park, in spite of the government shutdown, and to partake of its beauty. Here’s hoping for a quick solution and a brighter tomorrow!
I hope you have enjoyed learning about the US National Parks and that you get to visit them yourself. If not, at least you can see them through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me!
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