Tourists planning to visit the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Big Bend and other national parks were disappointed to find the parks closed due to the government shutdown.
But many people who traveled long distances to visit the nation’s open wilderness are finding alternatives, and local towns and businesses are benefiting.
- Laurel Morales, senior field correspondent in Flagstaff, Ariz. for Fronteras Desk. She tweets @laurelgwyn.
- Lorne Matalon, reporter for Fronteras Desk. He tweets @matalon.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW.
With the Grand Canyon and other national parks closed for business due to the government shutdown, what is a tourist to do? Well, some people who've traveled thousands of miles to hike or camp or paddle in the national parks are deciding to go to nearby towns instead. We have two reports now from the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, starting with Fronteras reporter Laurel Morales in Flagstaff, Arizona.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you guys ready?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yup.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible)
LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: 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 Skyride. It was a 2,000-mile cross-country trek for Vicki Watson(ph) to see the Grand Canyon.
VICKI WATSON: The day I left North Carolina, I was - I mean, I just knew it was going to happen, and I was really, really, really upset. And I guess I finally had to just come to terms with, you know, the fact that there's nothing that anybody could do about it.
MORALES: While it's not the same, Watson can see the edge of the Grand Canyon from the mountaintop.
WATSON: Good. Then I can say I saw it, can't I?
MORALES: Muriel Gogh(ph) 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.
MURIEL GOGH: I'm retired. I don't know whether I'd be able to get back out here again, and there are so many other places in the country I'd like to see. But the Grand Canyon is like a marvel, and the idea of missing it is very upsetting.
MORALES: Gogh says she will try to make the best of it, but she's still frustrated.
GOGH: I think we were most angry all of these things for vacationers were closed and some more serious programs as well, but yet that Congress was still being paid. And we felt there was something wrong with that picture.
MORALES: In addition to the distant view from Mount Humphreys, visitors determined to see the Grand Canyon can camp on forest lands adjacent to the park or access it from 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 Plexiglas horseshoe 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 to swim, but tourist can photograph the incredible waterfalls. I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.
LORNE MATALON, BYLINE: This is Lorne Matalon in Marfa, Texas, gateway to Big Bend National Park. It's an epic landscape of color and rock that hugs the Rio Grande and draws rafters from around the world. They see Mexico to their right and the U.S. to their left as they float downriver.
The park is closed, translating into unexpected revenue for some, at least temporarily: tourists drawn to the Big Bend during a 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 Mateo Sevee(ph).
MATEO SEVEE: It's such a letdown not to go to the Big Bend, really.
MATALON: He's with 25 friends traveling in two vans rented specifically to travel to the Big Bend, among them Sheena Gaegin(ph) from County Tipperary of Ireland.
SHEENA GAEGIN: And so many of us are from so far away, and who knows when we'll be able to get this opportunity again.
MATALON: Marfa restaurateur Maya Keck(ph) is conflicted about the unexpected sight of midweek tourists in a tranquil town.
MAYA KECK: It puts me in a weird position because I don't want to think that there is an upside to the government shutdown. But we have been extremely busy, and I don't exactly know what to attribute that to, other than the fact that there might be tourists up here that had initially planned to be in the Big Bend National Park.
MATALON: River guide Greg Hennington(ph) says he's hoping to bring rafters on the river in a nearby state park. But that's not his preferred option either.
GREG HENNINGTON: 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.
MATALON: Hennington says the 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. I'm Lorne Matalon in Marfa, Texas.
HOBSON: And still to come, what is happening to those chemical weapons in Syria. We'll be back with that in a minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.