Visitors to Death Valley, Red Rock feel impact of shutdown

Updated January 4, 2019 - 10:39 pm

DEATH VALLEY, Calif. — By 2 p.m. Friday, the couple from Los Angeles had already set up their campsite at Furnace Creek.

Kevin Randolph and Oscar Arroyo had just pitched their red tent, set up their firepit and laid down their supplies for stargazing at Death Valley National Park.

It was a great spot, they said. They wondered why there weren’t many other tents set up.

“What do they know that we don’t?” Randolph said they asked each other. The two found out less than an hour later.

As they drove their white Volvo past the entrance to the Furnace Creek Campground, they spotted a National Park Service maintenance worker — one of the few working during the partial government shutdown — using a forklift to move a concrete barrier into place to ensure campers wouldn’t enter the closed site.

“Hey, we have a tent set up there,” Randolph shouted from his car window. “Can we go get it?”

They would have to move their camp, the maintenance worker said, directing them to the open Stovepipe Wells Campground. “Please take advantage of that while you still can,” he told them.

“It’s kind of concerning,” Arroyo said. “Hopefully we can find a campsite,” Randolph added.

The Furnace Creek Campground is one of several park locations that closed Friday because of safety concerns from human waste, trash and park resource damage. Others included Texas Springs Campgrounds, Natural Bridge, Dante’s View and Keane Wonder Mine and Salt Creek.

The National Park Service has a contingency plan that will keep an estimated 3,300 employees at work providing services essential for visitor protection.

Despite the lack of government appropriations, the park had reopened its Furnace Creek Visitor Center on Thursday, thanks to a cash donation by the Death Valley Natural History Association, a nonprofit organization.

Where’s the bathroom?

The park counts itself lucky to have partners to help keep maintaining some of their bathrooms and the visitors’ center, spokesman Patrick Taylor said.

The cash donation is about $2,700 a day for the staff to work at the visitor center desk, clean restrooms and general supplies and test the water to make sure it’s safe as well as utility costs, Taylor said.

It’s the first time it has been necessary for this donation, and the organization also agreed to maintain the adjoined public restroom until at least Thursday.

One issue remains the biggest nuisance for visitors and park maintenance during the shutdown, he said.

“When people arrive, they don’t care how pretty it is. It’s, ‘Where’s the bathroom?’ That’s the first question,” Taylor said.

When bathrooms are full and workers can’t empty them, park visitors will relieve themselves in the desert or campgrounds, and some kick down locked bathroom doors in desperation, Taylor said.

Those bathrooms are historic buildings that aren’t easy to repair, he said.

“Overwhelmingly, there has been a bathroom that’s been closed, and people have been continuing to go to the bathroom all around it,” he said. “Digging holes in the dirt, and sometimes not digging holes in the dirt.”

Taylor said the additional help from Oasis at Death Valley, managed by Xanterra Travel Collection, which agreed to maintain four public restrooms at the Ryan entrance station, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon and Badwater Basin locations, has been greatly appreciated.

“We’re grateful,” he said. “We have it pretty good here because of the partners helping with our bathrooms, and the visitors — it’s a good combination.”

The majority of visitors are treating the park with more respect than normal, he said. “It’s just a few folks that are getting all the headlines.”

The partial shutdown marked a slight inconvenience for some park visitors, but they were still intent on making the most of their trip.

At the Ryan entrance, Anne-Marie Dekoninck and Jean-Claude Lefebure, visiting from Belgium, stopped to use the bathroom. As Dekoninck entered a restroom, a woman in a purple scarf left a stall, shielding herself from the smell with her scarf.

It was ironic, Dekoninck said, because the Belgian government had shut down last month, too.

“We’re a little upset at the smell,” she said. “But, we’re here.”

At Badwater Basin, a German couple said they were barely affected by the partial shutdown: They had rented a recreational vehicle for their Western road trip. They had a bathroom, food and a built-in kitchen.

“And we get in free,” Karlheinz Schuster said with a smile.

The lapse in maintenance was clear at the park’s Zabriskie Point. Dumpsters with “Make America Green Again” stickers overflowed in the parking lot. Three brown banana peels sat nearby. Yet, RVs and cars still filled every space.

Aware of the situation, the Horneck family from Bakersfield, California, came prepared for a stop on their way back from an East Coast trip.

They made their own lunches and maintained their ecological footprint by keeping a trash bag in the car. More importantly, they brought their own toilet paper.

“We were on the fence about it, but I downloaded all the maps,” Jeremy Horneck said. “It was a beautiful day for a hike.”

Outside the Furnace Creek Visitors Center, members of Boy Scout Troop 185 from Lancaster, California, circled around, eager to get started on their weekend camping trip at Cow Creek. Because of the government shutdown, they adjusted their schedule to pick up trash when they can and help keep the park clean.

Jeffrey Stahmann, 17, said he has participated in dozens of camping trips during his six years as a Boy Scout, but this weekend’s trip would be his first during a partial government shutdown.

“We’ll see how it goes,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to step in.”

Closer to home

In the Las Vegas Valley, visitors can still enter the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Red Rock National Conservation Area during the partial government shutdown, but they do so at their own risk.

The visitors center at Lake Mead, which is maintained by the National Park Service, is also closed during the shutdown. Several bathrooms at the Lake Mead are still accessible though they are not being maintained, and trails and campgrounds are still open.

The Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina are operated by Boating Lake Mead, an independent concessionaire, and remain open.

Emergency services at both areas are limited.

The visitors center at Red Rock is closed, and no Bureau of Land Management employees are on hand to clean bathrooms, remove trash or maintain the trails and roads at the park.

The entrance to the area remained without staff on Thursday, with signs posted at the fee area warning: “Any entry onto BLM property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s own risk.”

The BLM’s 2018 contingency plan for government shutdowns calls for law enforcement and emergency personnel to keep working without pay while about 6,930 nonessential employees are furloughed.

“I didn’t even think about (the shutdown),” said Robert Waters of Houston, who visited Red Rock on Thursday with his wife and two daughters. “The sign said, ‘Come on in,’ so we did.”

Sierra Mackenzie, 18, came prepared when she took advantage of the shutdown to visit the park for free with her friends. She brought her own toilet paper.

“My mom gave me a roll before I left the house,” she said.

Parking lots overflowed at Red Rock trailheads and overlooks on Thursday, with vehicles lined up next to no-parking signs along the scenic loop. Visitors lined up at bathrooms but complained about the lack of toilet paper.

“There’s a lot of tourists and other people here usually,” Mackenzie said, “but I’ve never seen this many cars.”

She and her friends were taking their trash home with them so they wouldn’t leave anything behind at the park, Mackenzie said. The teens filled a backpack with empty water bottles and wrappers they picked up while exploring the park.

Local rock climber Brent Maxfield said that climbers often take it upon themselves to keep their parks clean.

“The problem is you have a lot of people coming and going who don’t understand the culture of maintenance,” he said. “This is our playground, and if we don’t take care of it, we lose it.”

Maxfield and his dog, Leo, went out to the Red Rock to do “recon” on Thursday, checking up on the level of trash at trailheads and pull-offs along the scenic loop. He said they haven’t seen any serious issues yet, but trash will keep piling up until employees return to work.

“There’s rangers and all these people whose job it is to take care of the parks, but if they don’t, we will,” he said.

Other parks

The visitor’s center at Zion National Park will remain open through Saturday , thanks to donations from the state of Utah and the Zion Forever Project. A donation from the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association will keep the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center open through Thursday

The visitor center at Nevada’s Great Basin National Park is closed for the season, and calls to the Lehman Cave Visitor Center at the park were not answered on Friday.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter. Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

Local Videos
Property Brothers visit Michael’s in Las Vegas Valley
Twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott are the hosts of Property Brothers, the hit HGTV show where they help couples find fixer-uppers and transform them into dream homes. In 2018, the brothers collaborated with Michael's on their first custom framing program. Today they're releasing new frames into that collection that range from natural to bright looking. Jonathan and Drew discuss their brand and why frames was something they wanted to pursue. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 traffic jam
A semitrailer stopped in the middle of Interstate 15 near Charleston Boulevard has slowed traffic in central Las Vegas Wednesday morning, April 17, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rainy Tuesday
The Las Vegas Valley saw cooler temperatures and rain Tuesday afternoon. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Tiger Woods Bettor Collects
James Adducci bet $85k on Tiger Woods to win the Masters. He collected his $1.19M from William Hill sports bet in the SLS today. (Mat Luschek /Review-Journal)
Endangered frogs released at Springs Preserve
Dozens of endangered Relic Leopard Frogs were released at the Cotton Grove inside Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Thursday, April 11, 2019
Vintage World War II aircraft arrive at Henderson Executive Airport
The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour comes to Henderson Executive Airport with a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang and a P-40 Warhawk. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring Pearl Harbor veteran
Ed Hall, a Pearl Harbor veteran in Las Vegas, is honored with Quilt of Valor during an event in a Las Vegas. (Erik Verduzo/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV Anthropology professors excavate Maya ruin site of Caracol, Belize for 36 years
The husband-and-wife team of UNLV anthropologists has spent several months a year at the remote site of Caracol in the jungles of Belize, excavating ruins and uncovering secrets from the region’s once-dominant civilization. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Things to remember when adopting a rabbit this Easter season
As Easter and spring time approach, some people may be tempted to adopt a rabbit for the holiday. But like adopting any animal, it is important to be responsible and know what a rabbit requires to be a happy, healthy pet. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bike Giveaway in Las Vegas - Piero’s Italian Cuisine
Evan Glusman of Piero’s Italian Cuisine hosted a party in the restaurant’s parking lot to distribute over 150 bikes to local kids. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Charleston/I-15 ramp configuration
The new Interstate 15/ Charleston Boulevard ramp configuration was unveiled Tuesday morning. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Northwest Vegas farm's abandoned pig problem
Someone abandoned a several hundred pound pig at Sharon Linsenbardt's farm. Her farm is a rescue for animals, but she doesn't have room or resources to take on another such creature, so she's asking the community for help. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Chalk Talk: Black Student Union
Students talk about the Black Student Union in the latest episode of Chalk Talk. (Angus Kelly and Amelia Pak-Harvey/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Individuals with Parkinson's participate in dance class
Pamela Lappen leads a dance class for individuals with Parkinson's Disease at the Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, Thursday, March 28, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Review-Journal
Animal Foundation Preps Pups For Best In Show
The Las Vegas Animal Foundation is preparing its prime pups for their 16th annual Best in Show event, which takes place at the end of April. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Dog Yoga At Hydrant Club
The Hydrant Club in downtown Las Vegas, is a social club for dogs and their people. Recently the club started hosting dog yoga. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Butterflies At The Springs Preserve
The butterfly habitat is now open at the Springs Preserve. Learn about butterflies and take in the peaceful surroundings. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Conservatory's spring display has a Japanese theme
The Bellagio's conservatory is hosting around 65,000 flowers, to form a Japanese theme this spring. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bonnie Springs closes (Caroline Brehman/Kimber Laux)
Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas officially closed its gates Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring a fallen North Las Vegas Police officer at his namesake school
The 20th Annual Raul P. Elizondo Honor Day celebrates the fallen North Las Vegas Police officer's legacy at his namesake school. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Windy day in Las Vegas Valley
The Review-Journal's camera on the under-construction Las Vegas Stadium the was buffered by high winds on Wednesday, March 14, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
March gloom falls on Las Vegas
After a rainy overnight, gloomy skies hover over Las Vegas Tuesday morning. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
John Katsilometes gets his head shaved at St. Baldrick's
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes gets his head shaved by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman during St. Baldrick's Foundation shave-a-thon on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York in Las Vegas Friday, March 8, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Blue Angels take flight over Las Vegas Strip
The Blue Angels’ U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flew their signature Delta formation over a part of the Las Vegas Strip, McCarran International Airport and east Las Vegas and were scheduled to fly over Hoover Dam. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Gross World Records
A group of about 20 children gathered around a TV at Sahara West Library on Feb. 27 for a history lesson on the most disgusting world records.
Graduation for Renewing HOPE program
The Renewing HOPE program graduation for homeless who spend nine months in Catholic Charities program. Graduates are preparing to enter the workforce. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Car crashes into Starbucks near Las Vegas Strip
Lt. William Matchko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gives details about a car crashing into a Starbucks at Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road, near the Las Vegas Strip, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Car crashed into PT’s Gold
A 60-year-old man who police believe was impaired drove into a PT’s Gold at Silverado Ranch and Decatur boulevards Thursday night, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. William Matchko said. The driver was hospitalized and is expected to survive. A man inside the bar was hit by debris but drove himself to the hospital, Matchko said. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (part 1)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (pullout)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life Videos
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Army medic’s Afghanistan story told in new book
The graphic novel “Machete Squad” is based on journals written by Las Vegan Brent Dulak.
Las Vegas man talks about losing his wife
Dwayne Murray, 37, lost his wife, LaQuinta while she was at Centennial Hills Hospital. A jury awarded him $43 million last week after it said the hospital failed to perform the standard of care in administering a drug for her sickle cell disease.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing