JOSHUA TREE, Calif. — On an autumn morning like this one, they should be gearing up for a day of hiking amid the cacti, climbing up one of the more than 400 formations of high desert monzogranite or taking in the vista of Keyes View.
But instead of venturing into Joshua Tree National Park, visitors Tuesday were in a cafe just outside it, trying to figure what else to do or where they can go. Park rangers had turned them away. The visitor center next door was locked up, a “closed” sign hanging in the window.
“That’s not fair to the people,” Al Valerio, who had plans to spend the day exploring the park with his wife, said of the shutdown that had hindered his vacation plans.
He echoed the exasperation of many. “They need to think about the people,” he said of Congress, “not themselves.”
Rosie Rivera, the manager of the Park Rock Cafe, said this is supposed to be the busy season. The fall and the spring are the busiest times of the year, especially when the rock climbers flood the park and her restaurant.
On Tuesday, however, business was at a trickle. Most customers just bought a cup of coffee and kept getting refills. She’d only made two omelets.
April Eckersley sat at a table with her computer, trying to figure out a backup plan. She had arrived here with a few friends, who were rock climbing guides. The plan was to camp in the park for a week or so until they could figure out a place to live.
“What if it doesn’t open for awhile?” said Eckersly, 29, who’d come from Oregon. “We need to work and make money.... I think our plan now is just to find a place to stay.”
Cory Nauman, her boyfriend, was beyond frustrated — with his own predicament and at the politicians he said put him in it. “I don’t have faith,” the 32-year-old said. “I think we should go to Canada.”
“What are we going to do?” Eckersly said. “This is, like, our life.”
The shutdown had put a major crimp in the plans of Valerie Bland. She arrived Monday at Joshua Tree, embarking on a motorcycle tour of several national parks. She was going to head to Sequoia National Park and then Crater Lake.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what I’m going to do,” she said.
But she also had some perspective. The parks were just one leg in a yearlong trek for the Zimbabwe native. She started in Brazil, and continued on to Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala. “This is a disappointment,” she said. “It’s not an obstacle."
Trying to find a boat to take her up the Amazon in Brazil was an obstacle, she said. So was having to reroute at the last minute to Panama because of a travel snafu.
“I was sweating that,” she said. “This is, ugh."
The cafe — known for its turkey sandwiches on cranberry bread — opened four years ago in a space adjoining the visitor center. With the visitor center closed, the cafe has served as the next best place for curious travelers to get information.
“I feel ashamed when people come in here,” said Rivera, who has been the one breaking the bad news to many wondering why they can’t get in.
“That’s what God wants, for us to get together,” she said. “The government doesn’t seem to care.”
Valerio, who had driven down from San Jose with his wife, Rose, agreed.
“They can criticize,” Valerio, a 67-year-old Postal Service employee, said of squabbling members of Congress, “but they don’t offer solutions.”
“Thank you!” Rivera interjected. “It’s us, people down here, who have to pay for their disagreements.”
Rivera, who moved here more than 20 years ago from Downey, told the Valerios of the park’s splendor: the fresh air, the blue skies, the chirping birds.
“It’s beautiful, let me tell you!” she said. “It’s beautiful!”
The Valerios would be moving on, though. They’d just have to take her word for it.