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shut down for what

TV screens tuned to CNN and Fox News trumpeted the impending government shutdown as we made our way to our gate two Fridays ago, boarding our flight to Phoenix hours before a lapse in appropriations, which is now in its 13th day and appears to have no immediate end in sight. Our automated furlough notices arrived the next morning, as we started our second Southwest road trip with an ambitious itinerary of national and state parks in Arizona and New Mexico.

Initially, we hardly felt the effects of the shutdown. Visitor centers and fee collection booths at national parks were closed, but the parks themselves largely remained open through the first weekend of the shutdown. We visited Saguaro National Park and hiked in Chiricahua National Monument — the undisputed hiking highlight of the trip.

We encountered our first real hiccup on the third day, which we had planned to split between the White Sands National Monument and the Carlsbad Caverns. Both parks are located in New Mexico, but are several hours apart, and visiting both in one day was always going to be a tight squeeze. Checking the NPS website, we saw that the caves would be closed even as the rest of Carlsbad Caverns National Park remained open. Visiting the park while missing out on its star attraction made little sense, so we decided to focus our attention on White Sands.

Imagine our disappointment when we arrived at White Sands only to find the gate bolted shut and adorned with signs proclaiming the park’s closure due to the shutdown. Fortunately, the closed gate did not spoil completely our visit to this unique area. A mile down the road from the main entrance one of the park’s iconic white dunes has spilled over the fence erected ages ago to prevent unauthorized access to the park. We saw a couple dozen cars parked on the highway shoulder and joined the other out-of-state visitors determined to have a good time despite the shutdown. We walked around a bit, but didn’t linger long enough to see the local news crew arrive; the story eventually made national headlines.

As the shutdown dragged on, more and more parks that had initially remained opened closed their gates to visitors. In addition to Carlsbad, Bandelier National Monument and the Petrified Forest National Park were also on our original itinerary, and both remain on our must-visit list. We cannot blame the shutdown entirely, however, as a major snowstorm hit northern New Mexico the day we had planned to visit Bandelier. The roads were iced over; it would have been impossible for us to visit even if the park had not been shuttered because of the lapse in government funding.

We made the best of the less-than-ideal situation, discovering a number of other attractions that we had not planned on visiting. In lieu of the Carlsbad Caverns, for example, we visited Roswell. We passed various extraterrestrial-inspired sights on our way through town before spending a pleasant afternoon driving around the Bitter Lake Wildlife Sanctuary as if on a bird-watching safari. We saw a Greater Roadrunner and large flocks of wintering ducks and geese, as well as some raptors and a number of smaller birds. In all, we added 14 new species to our bird list.

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After ten days on the road, we flew back to DC on New Year’s Day. S will be forced to remain at home until the shutdown comes to an end and worries that she will completely lose the Tagalog she had learned if this impasse is not resolved soon. D has been un-furloughed and has returned to a mostly empty State Department building, joining the approximately 400,000 federal employees who have been instructed to continue working despite not getting paid.

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