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A Guide to the Shutdown of the Grand Canyon

Bob Christie
Published: October 4, 2013

Guests make the ceremonial first steps on the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in Arizona, on March 20, 2007. (Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Frustrated tourists can see it, but they can't get to it. The closest they can come are horseback rides and hikes in the area.

The shutdown of the federal government has led the Grand Canyon National Park to be closed for only the second time since it was created in 1919. Closed are roads, campgrounds, lodges, trails, overlooks and entry sites for rafting trips down the Colorado River through the gorge.

About 4.5 million tourists from around the world make the trip every year to the iconic park in northern Arizona, a trek that pours an estimated $1.3 million a day into nearby communities.

The shutdown that began Tuesday after Congress failed to pass a federal budget has happened once before, in 1995. That shutdown led then-Gov. Fife Symington to lead a convoy filled with Arizona National Guard troops and state parks officers to the canyon and demand its superintendent open the gates.

The effort failed, but he was able to negotiate a deal where a partial reopening would be paid for by state funds. The federal government later repaid the state. The closure was the first since the park was created in 1919.

After Tuesday's shutdown, current Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's staff called superintendent Dave Uberuaga and offered to find a way to pay for the park to be reopened. Businesses that run hotels and other business in the nearby town of Tusayan also offered to pony up cash to pay for park employees and other costs.

As the former superintendent had in 1995, Uberuaga rejected the offer. He plans to stick to his guns, part of an Obama administration strategy of not accepting partial fixes for the budget impasse now gripping the nation. And Brewer has no plans to push further by forcing the issue. "This isn't 1995," Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said.

(MORE: 25 Oddball Places to Visit That Are Still Open)

Some of the country's most recognizable icons can be viewed from a distance — the full faces of Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, 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," said 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."

An English couple, Neil and Clare Stanton, touring national parks out West settles for a drive around Yosemite without being able to put their feet on the ground.

The Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau outside the national park helped them set up horseback rides and hikes outside. He said Yosemite has "been somewhat on our bucket list for years, and you get here and you can't get to it. A bit frustrating but we still made the most of it."

(PHOTOS: Camp in Style With Cool Vintage Campers)

Returning to the national parks might be easier said than done, particularly for international tourists who often plan expensive and lengthy vacations.

The National Park Service says 2,200 federal and private employees who work in the park are on furlough and the park will remain closed until the government reopens. October is a busy time of year at the park because of the cool weather, with an average 18,000 tourists visiting each day.

Hotels, concessionaires, and tour operators are losing money by the hour. The Park Service says visitors spend more than $467 million a year in the communities around park, supporting nearly 7,400 jobs in Arizona.

The Canyon is in northwest corner of Arizona and was cut by the Colorado River, which courses along 277 miles of the canyon floor. The river has cut a gorge as deep as a mile into the surrounding plateaus and is up to 18 miles wide.

According to the Grand Canyon Association, humans have continuously used the canyon and lived in the region for nearly 12,000 years. The area around the current national park was identified as a forest reserve and later as a national monument before gaining park status in 1919.

MORE: 25 Awesome Places Closed by the Government Shutdown

Mount Rushmore - South Dakota

Mount Rushmore - South Dakota

Three million people visit Mount Rushmore each year to see the impressive stone carvings of four U.S. presidents. (Creative Commons/Dean Franklin)

  • Mount Rushmore - South Dakota
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Washington D.C.
  • Alcatraz Island - San Francisco
  • Statue of Liberty - New York
  • Old Faithful - Wyoming
  • Carlsbad Caverns – New Mexico
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park – California
  • Mount Denali – Alaska
  • Baby Panda Cam - National Zoo, Washington D.C.
  • Gila Cliff Dwellings – New Mexico
  • Cape Cod National Seashore– Massachusetts
  • Grand Canyon - Arizona
  • Antietam - Sharpsburg, Md.
  • Arches National Park – Utah
  • Shenandoah National Park - Virginia
  • Faneuil Hall - Boston
  • Acadia National Park - Maine
  • Smithsonian Instutition - Washington D.C.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Natl. Site - Atlanta, Ga.
  • Everglades National Park - South Florida
  • Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park- Tennessee
  • Liberty Bell and Independence Hall - Philadelphia
  • Washington Monument - Washington D.C.
  • San Juan Historic Park - Puerto Rico

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