I’ll never forget feeling like we were in a war zone while talking to a Park Ranger at the Grand Canyon entrance.
We parked 300 yards from the blocked entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. No other “visitors” were there, and I just wanted to ask the guard/ranger where else we might be able to get a glimpse of the Grand Canyon. The ranger greeted us with an assault rifle. I gave a friendly wave, hoping he’d realize I didn’t mean any trouble. We talked to him for awhile and found out he was alone at his post with no back up for many miles. He was pretty on-edge the whole time as several vehicles approached the gate while we talked. Apparently he and other rangers had lots of scary encounters with outraged visitors — enough to warrant the use of military weapons. I struggle with the fact that Congress thinks Park Rangers using assault rifles is okay while they still get paid to not do their job of running our country.
Luckily, the ranger suggested a spot we could see the East Rim of the Grand Canyon/Marble Canyon from a viewpoint in Kaibab National Forest. Seeing this small peek was a lot like seeing a movie trailer for a film we were prohibited from seeing.
Irony: The re-opening of Grand Canyon National Park was announced minutes before I posted this. Originally we planned to turn back to see it and the Utah parks we missed, but it’s an extra 2,000 miles onto our trip. At this point, it’d put us over budget. (But we’re REALLY REALLY excited that parks are finally re-opening!)
Luckily, we already made plans to visit some family down south as we head back east.
Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands: we’ll see you on the next trip out west! We’re already planning!
Quick side note about “closed” parks: all facilities (bathrooms, ranger stations, visitor centers, hiking trails, road pull offs, park roads going to hikes or attractions, park and forest campgrounds) are completely closed. Unless a park road is a major thoroughfare, it’s closed off and trespassers can be fined hundreds of dollars or even face jail time. Choosing (and driving to) good hikes takes hours as opposed to a few minutes of talking to a Park Ranger or volunteer who will enthusiastically describe several hikes just for us.
Aside from missing out on some of America’s greatest gems, the toughest part for the rest of our low budget trip is this: the National Park and Forest campgrounds were our home! They are by far the most affordable options for us. The alternative is paying twice as much for a private RV park or a State Park campground. We can still pull off the side of the road in National Forests and sleep in the car, but this option has no toilets, often no cell signal, and a vulnerable feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.
With the park closures, our new “home” is Walmart parking lots. Never ever did I think the big blue box surrounded by blacktop would give me the warm, fuzzy feeling of home. (Even after we got kicked out of a San Diego Walmart parking lot at 1 am. We had to drive 60 miles to another Walmart where a very nice security guard allowed us to stay even though it was prohibited.)
We’ll never forget our unique perspective on this government shutdown, and we’re seeing the truly scary affects that somehow aren’t covered in the news.