Access to national parks in US Southwest a mixed bag during shutdown
PHOENIX (AP) — The federal government’s shutdown presents visitors with a mixed bag at national parks and monuments in the US Southwest, home to some of the parks system’s crown jewels.
Hikers who already have backcountry permits can still hike down into the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. But visitors arriving at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico can check out only the surface, not the underground cavern that is the park’s main attraction. While roads, hiking trails and boating ramps are open and available for use at numerous parks and monuments in the region, visitor centers and other staffed facilities at many are closed because of the shutdown.
Still others, particularly those with precious natural and cultural treasures, are closed entirely and off limits because of the shutdown resulting from a Washington, D.C., deadlock over President Donald Trump’s desire for funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Sites closed outright include Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico, home to irreplaceable petroglyphs and cliff dwellings, and Petrified National Forest National Park in northern Arizona, where even on a normal day people are tempted to illegally remove pieces of petrified wood as souvenirs.
Closures padlocked gates at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in south-central Arizona, White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico and Valles Caldera National Preserve, home of scenic mountain meadows where a volcano erupted about 1.2 million years ago in what is now northern New Mexico. Valles Caldera was closed “for the safety and protection of visitors and park resources,” its announcement said.
It may not be easy in some cases to determine from afar the status of some Interior Department parks and monuments. Like some others, Bandelier’s website on Saturday was topped by a shutdown notice that said the website itself “will not be updated and may not reflect current conditions.”
But state officials made clear that some of the region’s big draws for tourists remained open, at least in terms of access and basic services.
Arizona and Utah officials implemented funding plans to keep open Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks and provide services such as public restrooms, shuttles and trash collection. Concession operations such as lodges remained open, and Utah’s funding for the parks in that state included visitor centers.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state wanted visitors who planned their visits months in advance “to return home with memories of magnificent vistas and welcoming people, not locked doors.”
Similarly, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said visitors should stick to plans to visit the Grand Canyon. “The Grand Canyon will not close on our watch,” he said in a statement announcing the state funding.
However, Carlsbad Caverns said its roads, lookouts and trails were available to visitors. But the park’s status report added, “the visitor center and cavern will be closed.”
Near Las Vegas in southern Nevada, Lake Mead National Recreation Area remained open, but officials cautioned that emergency and rescue services will be limited there and at Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument. Similar warnings were posted in other parks and monuments where many employees were furloughed.