This Shutdown Will Not Stop My Good Times

The entire duration of our Death Valley experience was during the current (and still ongoing) government shutdown.  It was interesting.  I guess I'll say that.  In most ways the effect of the shutdown on our journey was sort of disheartening, but there were rays of humanity that shone through, too.  The shutdown certainly didn't rain on our parade or anything, though it is a filter that overlays the whole thing.  Overall we lucked out with timing and access and had an unreasonably cheap time to boot since there were no fees for the park or for camping.
Near the Artist's Palette - Death Valley National Park
We were only prevented from seeing one site we wanted to visit--a thirteen mile drive to Dante's View for a sweeping view of the park's varied landscape.  The road was barred in order to "protect resources" and so we were unable to go.  [By "protecting resources" they mean, preventing knuckleheads from stealing rocks and driving off road, that sort of thing.]  We lucked out in that roads to both the Natural Bridge and the Artist's Palette were closed the day after we basked in their glory.
Golden Canyon - Death Valley National Park
The "Friends of Death Valley" are footing the bill to keep the visitors center and museum up and running.  That was very heartwarming.  I am glad Death Valley has such dedicated friends to fill in the gap.  The museum taught us a lot about the geology and history we were encountering.  It was tremendously helpful to get a park map and newspaper and talk over some backcountry options with the Rangers.  They're the experts and we'd prepared ourselves to fly blind, as it were.  Instead, the Rangers talked with us about various road conditions, what camping options were still available during the shutdown, and other details that helped along the way.
Natural Bridge - Death Valley National Park
Before I go one step further though I have an important proclamation:

I failed to comprehend the importance of national park staff when it comes to waste management.

Crowd management.  Education and Information.  Sure, I thought about how the shutdown would affect those things, but, holy shit [pardon the pun], it was astonishing.  Human beings are filthy, disgusting animals.  

There was garbage everywhere, as in:  If there was a garbage can it became a small garbage mound as people piled stuff on top and around the can once capacity had been reached.  All outhouses became repositories for heaps of trash.  I couldn't believe it.

I have a pretty wide range of tolerance for outhouses in remote and scenic places. And yet, we came across some of the nastiest outhouses I've ever seen outside of a music festival.  Possibly ever.  I'm lucky the women's bathroom at the Stovepipe Wells campground never sunk to the overflowing depths Matt reported about the men's room.  We carried our own roll of toilet paper with us to all bathrooms/outhouses because it was absolutely shocking to find some in there, especially later in the day.  The only "nice" outhouse we found was a mile+ walk from the the knuckleheads hadn't found it yet.  And even that one ran out of TP.
Badwater Basin salt flats - Death Valley National Park
We paid $4 each to shower and use the bathrooms at the Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel which was across the road from the (unsupervised) National Park campground.  The Hotel was trying to maintain a basic level of operation for the campground's bathrooms, too.  I thought that was pretty dang nice of them.  I know they were financially motivated, at least to some extent.  They want people to camp there so they come over and eat at the restaurant, drink at the bar, and shop the gift store.  But still, they were not obligated to do anything for that campground.  And it was most certainly a thankless job since it was just bathroom and trash maintenance.

We make so much trash, primarily in the form of food packaging.  It was depressing.  And gross.  And the mountains of it were like, well, the exact opposite of all the natural beauty surrounding me.
Sunset in the backcountry - Death Valley National Park
The camping was a little, shall we say, different.  There were fewer campgrounds open than usual due to the shutdown.  Some still allowed you to camp there, but without providing any bathroom facilities so that really only appealed to the RV crowd.  The last night of the trip we had to backtrack 20 miles because a campground that was open when we passed by on January 1st was closed when we tried to check in on January 6th. 

There were about twenty tent sites at the Stovepipe Wells campground, but there were certainly more than twenty tenters using them.  One night our neighbors put out their fire and retired to their tent only to have a second (huge) group show up and take over the campsite and set up their own tents, restarting the fire.  It was like a tent-site timeshare.  Except it was all free.  It was a little like the wild west, but with a mostly community attitude.  I was worried that the RVers wouldn't shut off their generators at 8pm as posted since there was no one around the make them...but they were civil and abided the quiet hours.
Joshua Tree forest - Death Valley National Park
I saw quite a bit of rock theft.  This is a problem for Death Valley even with staff oversight, but I imagine worse without the Rangers around.  Some of the campers at Stovepipe Wells weren't even being discreet about it.  Again, I guess they figured, who was going to stop them.  This was disheartening to me--that so many humans are willing to follow the rules only as long as there is someone around to require it.  I mean, there are reasons why it is illegal to collect in the park--ecological, historical, geological, seventh-generational.  I guess I like to think people will do the right thing, even if no one makes them and I was discouraged when presented with reality.

[Note: Even if it weren't illegal I do not condone collecting rocks in National Parks in any way, shape, or form.]
20 Mule Team Borax Co. historic site - Death Valley National Park
All in all though, our trip went off swell, especially given the shutdown.  No complaints.  Except about the fact that our politicians cannot get their own shit in order and get the parks--and so, so, so much more--up and running again.  I have a fairly major complaint about that.  My heart goes out to all those unexpectedly without income for so long.  Or who need services they can't get at the moment because offices are shuttered.  Or who don't get to visit places they'd been looking forward to because the gates are closed and locked.  Etc, etc, etc.
Near Desolation Canyon - Death Valley National Park
At least it didn't spoil our much anticipated vacation though, and, you know me, I try to find the silver linings.  


  1. It looks so perfect...and so nice of the people next door to help out...
    ~Have a lovely day!


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