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It was almost sunset when we reached Zion National Park in Utah earlier this week. The roads into the park were icy, but I was determined to take my family on the inspiring Canyon Overlook Trail before dark. I must admit that given the media reports of overflowing toilets, public health hazards, and no park rangers in our national parks during the ongoing government shutdown, I was apprehensive and wondered if I might encounter anything from sewage to a wandering grizzly bear.
Instead, I found the park to be quiet, and the visitors’ center was shuttered. At the trailhead we used an outhouse but it was functional and appeared unaltered or made riskier from neglect. I spotted a solo ranger outposted along the road just beyond the park entrance, but otherwise the spectacular orange and red/brown rock formations were unimpeded by man or regulatory oversight.
Point - Parks - Period - Austerity - Government
And this was the point; not that our national parks are better off during a period of austerity and government shutdown, but that experiencing them is different, more intimate. On the way up the trail in the near dark and the freezing cold I was aided by a new acquaintance from California who had been volunteering in national and state parks for many years. His company was welcomed. Mainly, though, I relied on old tricks and reflexes from childhood to follow the trail – I looked for manmade polished stones or steps in the rocks – these are deliberate markers. If you lose the trail, trace your steps backward until you find it again.
It was only on the way back down in the full dark that we experienced the chilling meaning of no rangers around. My children briefly lost their way and one of them fell, but everyone was all right as we regrouped and cautiously made...
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