Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing desert area located about 2 hours drive east of Los Angeles. The park is massive, slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island at 1,235 square miles. Since the partial government shutdown began most of the park rangers and service people who maintain the park have been out of work but the park itself has remained open. Today, that changed when the Park Service announced that, because of some illegal activity, the park would be closed starting Thursday:

Joshua Tree National Park will temporarily close effective 8 am on Thursday, January 10, to allow park staff to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations. Park officials plan to restore accessibility to the park in addition to limited basic services in the coming days…

While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure. Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol the park and enforce the closure until park staff complete the necessary cleanup and park protection measures.

As it happens, I was off part of last week and spent 3 days in Joshua Tree with my family. There were still plenty of people there viewing the various sites within the park, but I didn’t witness any mounds of trash or messes in the bathrooms, some of which were left open despite the shutdown. Yesterday someone writing for Adventure Sports Network described her visit to the park over the weekend. It seems she also didn’t see any signs of destructive behavior:

The park, from what I witnessed, looked incredibly well maintained – the trash cans were near empty and bathrooms stocked with toilet paper. I didn’t see even one piece of trash out on the trails, nor did I witness lawless behavior like people wandering out-of-bounds with ATVs or setting up slacklines on Joshua Trees.

Part of the reason the park has been so well cared for is that the community which depends on the tourism to the park has stepped up to help:

There have been daily meetups organized by nonprofit organizations and local companies like Nomad Ventures, Climbers Collective, Cliffhangers Guides and Friends of Joshua Tree that have been hauling trash out of the park and managing donations.

Action Pumping Inc, a septic service company in Yucca Valley, has helped by donating some of their trucks and manpower to help pump out some of the vault toilets…

To be clear, I’m not suggesting there haven’t been problems in the park. Given its size, there is far more of it than anyone could see in a week. So I have no doubt that there were some areas away from the eyes of other tourists where some idiots decided to go 4-wheeling off-road or do other stupid things. Here’s a statement I’ve found to be true: Some people are just a-holes.

Thankfully, they are a minority. Most of the people I saw were just normal families behaving themselves and enjoying the scenery. And obviously, a lot of local people have been doing their best to keep things clean while the government is shut down so people can enjoy the park. I don’t know the exact breakdown but I’d like to think that for every moron damaging trees there were several people volunteering to keep things nice for everyone’s benefit. Still, the fact that the park has to be shut down at all suggests that the a-holes are having a negative impact which can’t be ignored. That’s a shame.