We (my husband and three other friends, one of whom, Gary Spinner, took this photo) had made plane and lodging (outside the park) reservations eight months ago, so of course we went, leaving New Haven on October 6 and hoping things might reopen for at least part of our week-long visit.
We arrived in Gardiner, Montana, the northern gateway to the park (which is mostly across the border in Wyoming) and visited the Roosevelt Arch at the entrance, inscribed with the words, "Yellowstone National Park, created by an Act of Congress, March 1, 1872" (the nation's first national park), and, in bigger letters across the top, "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people." The entrance was barricaded and nearby a sign flashed, "Due to government shutdown/Yellowstone Park closed."
We stopped in to the Yellowstone Park Association building across from the park. It's a private, non-profit, and therefore was open. Staffers provided lots of information, then directed us to visit a couple who were volunteering nearby as park caretakers, who had an animal kill in their spotting scope, which might provide a chance to see a predator like a wolf or mountain lion feasting on it (but we didn't see any). These folks were in about their third year of volunteering for a three-month stint at the park -- something that sounded awfully appealing to me -- and told us about a hike we could take along a stream that feeds into the Yellowstone River, while remaining outside the park boundaries. We descended an incredibly steep, rocky trail that then leveled off for a walk through the high desert landscape, seeing tons of sagebrush, quite a few small cacti, old, abandoned water wheels, and an amazing number of large animal bones (probably elk), picked clean and bleached white.
Along the way we passed a couple going in the other direction. They were from Minneapolis and said they hike often in the park, and we were almost the first people they'd ever seen on the trail. They were heading to the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, which was inside the park. We followed them.
The view of the whitewater tumbling through the narrow canyon, with a backdrop of snow-covered peaks from a snowfall the previous week, was stunning. And the clean air! Living near the confluence of I-91 and I-95 in New Haven makes for really dirty air, and I was delighted all week just to breathe deeply.
All the other hikes we did were outside the park, and they were stellar, with long views of snow-capped peaks and close-up views of animal tracks in the mud or snow. We even saw a grizzly bear about ten feet from our car, and a black bear down one of the trails. We passed a mule train and three guys on horses on a very narrow trail, who had just set up their hunting camp on the other side of a rushing stream. If we'd gotten into the park, we would have seen a lot more animals, plus the geysers and the mud pots and all the other cool things the park is known for. I felt especially bad for the busloads of Asian tourists we saw, who came over planning to visit many national parks and faced barricades everywhere they went.
As I write, we've been home three days and the Senate and then the House are about to vote to start funding the government. Thanks, Congress, for your incompetence (or blatant attempts at political arm-twisting). As one shopkeeper in Gardiner put it, "What they (Congress) did was illegal. They don't own the parks. The parks belong to the people." Just read the words on the arch.