The mood is one of bewildered, slightly sheepish, celebration among visitors to Joshua Tree National Park.

No one to collect the entry fee, almost no one to operate or police the park, at peak tourist season it feels a little like anarchy has broken out.

Even the coyotes seem to be howling in delight at this unexpected freedom.

Image: The situation has been likened to the Wild West

In the old Wild West, things have gone a little crazy thanks to the US government shutdown.

Non-essential federal employees are sitting at home with just a skeleton staff working, putting the national parks at the mercy of the public.

Most visitors to these 1,200 square miles of American natural wonder are, of course, remaining respectful with the bonanza of free access. Some even pause in a brief moment of respect at the shuttered payment window.

People have had to help themselves at the park
Image: People have had to help themselves at the park

But there have been reports of law-breakers driving off-road, allowing dogs to roam off their leads and even hacking down some of the actual Joshua trees.

An army of volunteers, made up of locals whose livelihoods depend on the tourist traffic, has done its best to keep some semblance of normality. They have bitter memories of the economic impact on the area of the last shutdown.

But they can only do so much in the face of swarms of visitors, some who had already planned trips and many taking advantage of the seasonal freebie.

Non-essential federal employees are at home with just a skeleton staff working
Image: Non-essential federal employees are at home with just a skeleton staff working

There are minor inconveniences: toilet blocks are generally closed, some reported to be backed up and overflowing, similarly rubbish bins are not being routinely emptied and park maps have just been left in a box on the ground.

The Gersbach family from Texas had hoped to collect "junior ranger" badges for the children on a tour of national parks but they left Joshua Tree empty-handed.

Despite this, dad John says he sympathises with the reasons for the shutdown: "The politicians need to remember who sent them there, the American people."

It is a similar story at parks across the country. These landmarks of natural beauty have become the most noticeable impact of the political gridlock.

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The big concern is that people who get into difficulties in this vast wilderness will discover little response available to help them. They should be grateful that at least the snakes have taken refuge underground in the chilly desert temperatures.

The coyotes though are on the prowl. Like the rest of the world, they might be baffled at the dysfunction America's human leaders have managed to cook up.

Original Article

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Sky News

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