Clare Cogan and Daniel Mohally stood forlornly inside the Yosemite Visitors Bureau, trying to figure out how to salvage their honeymoon.
The Cork, Ireland, couple had flown to the United States last week for a honeymoon trip that started in San Diego and will end in San Francisco. But the highlight of their trip was meant to be an excursion to Yosemite.
“We grew up seeing pictures of it in books,” Cogan, a 31-year-old receptionist, said Tuesday. “You know, the cars underneath those huge Sequoia trees. That was America.”
Cogan and Mohally said they were both shocked by the government shutdown. It wasn’t big news in Cork. They first learned of it in a phone call from relatives who called from Ireland. It has forced national parks like Yosemite to lock their gates.
“It was devastating news for us,” Mohally said.
The pair had planned to visit Sequoia groves and Half Dome. They hoped to tour leisurely through Yosemite Valley and see the falls.
But while the park’s roads remained open late Tuesday, rangers were instructing drivers not to stop at the popular destinations.
“All I wanted to do was go to El Capitan and put my hand on it, just to be able to say I did,” said Mohally, a delivery driver.
Instead, Mohally and Cogan spent a moribund day sleeping until 2 p.m. at their hotel, located just outside the park, and watching television reruns of "Law and Order."
“We were depressed,” Mohally said. “But then we figured we had to get up and get on with it, find some things outside the park to do. It’s beautiful on the outskirts too.”
Their Yosemite plans quashed, the couple's planned trip to San Francisco was likely going to change as well: They had planned a tour to Alcatraz, but the famed onetime prison, now run by the National Park Service, has also been shut down.
“We just have to make the most of it,” Mohally said, a grim look on his face. “On Sunday we have tickets to a 49ers game. The NFL, that’s not run by the federal government is it?”
The honeymooners were part of steady stream of frustrated travelers stopping at the visitors bureau, a small office in the town of Oakhurst, about a 30-minute drive from the park entrance on Highway 41.
“We’ve had about 200 people come so far, just today by late afternoon,” said Jan Quistad, a retired school principal who works at the bureau’s front desk. “Last week we had about 60.”
Quistad noted that many were foreigners like Mohally and Cogan, tourists from Austria, Italy, Spain, Germany and England, to name a few. Most had come to Yosemite either unaware of the shutdown or hoping it wouldn’t happen. “They don’t understand it. Today, really, we are spending a lot of time apologizing for what the government has done.”
Still, in the small communities nestled just outside the park, towns that rely heavily on tourism, the shutdown has yet to have a big effect. In Oakhurst and nearby Coarsegold, the streets bustled at a normal pace, said Jarrod Lyman, public relations director at the visitors bureau.
“It’s early still,” Lyman said. “So far the businesses don’t really notice it. But if this thing goes on I would expect sharp drops. We’re steering travelers right now to the other great things to do outside the park, but Yosemite is the main attraction of course.”
Lyman noted there was a stroke of luck in the shutdown’s timing. October is a relatively slow period at the park. “If this had happened in June or July, peak season, that would be different deal. It would be a lot worse.”