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Red Rock visitors see little effect from government shutdown

The usual happenings in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area carried on over the weekend despite a partial government shutdown that started this past Friday night.

Rock climbers ascended mountainsides, leaving their mark on the famed red rocks with their white chalk. Hikers and campers explored the park’s winding trails. Tourists posed for photos, some even unaware Saturday of the lapsed federal funding. And private tours went on without a hitch.

By the looks of it, it would have been difficult to discern a shutdown was in effect at all — at least inside the scenic loop — if not for the closed signs plastered at the entrance.

“Attention: Due to the lapse in federal appropriations, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is unable to fully staff the land and facilities under its management,” the notices, in part, said.

Amid a stalemate over funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall, funding lapsed early Saturday for several federal departments.

The Senate and House convened for a rare weekend session on Saturday, but the Senate adjourned, with no further action anticipated until Thursday.

Death Valley National Park issued a statement on social media.

“Some Death Valley National Park areas are accessible; the major highways in the park will remain open,” it read Saturday. “Furnace Creek (campground), Sunset (campground), Texas Springs (campground), and Mesquite Springs (campground) will be closed. However access may change without notice, and there are no NPS-provided services.”

At Red Rock on Saturday, the roads and campgrounds were kept open, but the fee stations and the visitor center were locked.

While most Red Rock visitors celebrated the temporary absence of entrance fees, some spoke of potential issues that might arise regarding both the upkeep and accessibility of bathroom facilities.

“If those bathrooms are locked again, that’s a huge concern,” John Wilder said Saturday morning as he laced up his hiking boots. “They won’t be cleaned and they won’t be maintained, so if this shutdown goes on for a long time, that’ll be a problem.”

Wilder, a Las Vegas-based climber, is at Red Rock Canyon at least three times a week. He said his climbing plans were delayed about an hour Saturday morning, as he was unsure at first whether he would be able to use the Scenic Drive loop.

“But other than that (delay), I’m psyched that we can get out here and still recreate,” he said, as his 2-year-old dog, sitting next to him at the Calico Tanks trailhead, wagged his tail.

Nearby at the same trailhead, two more climbers, Kurt Haston and Amber Wagner, stuffed their gear into backpacks, readying themselves for one last day of climbing. The government shutdown had brought their weeklong camping trip to an end, they said.

The pair, who are from Tucson, Arizona, were not immediately worried by the funding stall, but Haston, a backpacking guide at the Grand Canyon, said he needed to go home and figure out whether an upcoming backpacking trip would go on as scheduled.

But he forewarned that if toilet paper is not soon restocked in the restrooms, “then weird stuff is going to go down those toilets.”

“People are going to start using socks or whatever they can,” Haston said. “And that’s hard to clean up.”

Wagner nodded in agreement.

“As climbers our main concern with a shutdown is upkeep. We just wonder how long we’re going to go without people restocking the bathrooms and just keeping up with things and making sure things are monitored,” Wagner said.

“People are pretty disrespectful on a regular basis, let alone when there’s no one around to clean up,” she said.

At the edge of the Calico Tanks parking lot, private tour guide Bill Sterling waited patiently for his tour group to return from taking pictures. He almost always proceeds with his tours during government shutdowns, he said, if some of the park’s restrooms are kept unlocked.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said of the partial shutdown. “It’s just not ideal.”

The Pahrump Valley Times staff contributed to this story.

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