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At Yellowstone, Devils Tower and elsewhere, shutdown ruins fall vacations, angers visitors
Oct 4, 2013 - By Felicia Fonseca, The Associated Press
Stop at a cafe in the forests of Wyoming, remote stretches of northern Arizona, or the near the iconic granite of Mount Rushmore, and you're likely to hear a mix of languages as tourists from around the world step into the western American landscape.
Millions of visitors tour the West each year for what can be once-in-a-lifetime vacations.
Those visitors didn't stop with the government shutdown, which forced officials to close down roads, campgrounds and tourist centers at national parks dotting the landscape.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has offered to use state money to keep the Grand Canyon open, and several businesses made similar pledges -- all of which have been politely rejected by the national park.
The impact isn't just ruining vacations. It also has brought local economies to a near standstill.
Outside Yellowstone's north entrance, two men on a bus with Indian and Chinese passengers frown and give the thumbs down sign after seeing the park is shut down. A family of Japanese tourists leaves the Grand Canyon in tears. An English couple and a Belgium couple touring national parks out West settles for a drive around Yosemite without being able to put their feet on the ground.
"Looks as though both sides are having a bit of a childish tantrum," says Englishman Neil Stanton.
Songyi Cho, on a separate trip to Yosemite, says: "This is crazy. How can a whole government shut down?"
While some international tourists kept tabs on American politics in the days before they ventured to national parks, others were blindsided.
Alan Platt and his wife, Leana, first heard about a possible shutdown while at the Grand Canyon on Monday. Platt guessed that lawmakers would be pushed to the brink but pass a budget by the deadline. He was wrong, and the couple was forced to cut their three-day Grand Canyon stay short.
"For the rest of the world, we're concerned about the fact you have partisan positioning going on," he says. "No matter who's in power, there's a national pride in engagement we saw. Suddenly, we see a great divide."
From a distance
Some of the country's most recognizable icons can be viewed from a distance -- the full faces of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Devils Tower and the Teton Range in Wyoming, the granite formations in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier. No one needs to tell tourists that it's not the same as camping on the beaches of the Grand Canyon off the Colorado River, walking the slot canyons at Zion or watching water spew at Old Faithful in Yellowstone.
"There's no question it's disappointing," says Bruce Brossman of the Grand Canyon Railway, which has furloughed conductors and engineers who run trains into the canyon. "You can get a sneak peak and maybe get inspired to come back."
Returning to the national parks might be easier said than done, particularly for international tourists who often plan expensive and lengthy vacations.