Reporter’s note: The federal government shutdown that began nationwide at midnight Friday ended Monday after Congress passed a temporary spending bill that will keep the government open until Feb. 8 (See related story, this page).

Under gray winter skies Sunday the way into Yosemite National Park was open with no restrictions, but the ranger guard houses at the Big Oak Flat entrance were empty.

There were no rangers in the shacks to collect entrance fees, hand out maps or answer questions. Motorists were able to drive in and out of the park at will. Signs were posted on the locked fee collection windows.

“Important Notice to Park Visitors,” the signs stated. “While this unit/area is accessible to the public during the lapse in federal appropriations, the National Park Service is unable to fully staff the properties under its management. It is not feasible to close or otherwise prohibit all access to NPS properties.”

When Yosemite National Park is fully staffed with rangers for winter season, it still takes a small army of people to patrol parts of the 1,169-square-mile park that are open and accessible. Most of those federal employees did not appear to be around Sunday.

A “Closed” sign attached to an orange-and-white traffic barrier barred the way to the men’s restroom at the Big Oak Flat entrance. Another sign blocked the way to the women’s restroom, stating “Because of a lapse in federal appropriations, this facility/area is closed for the safety of visitors and park resources.”

In the parking lot, a white Dodge utility truck labeled NPS Traffic with a red light bar on its roof sat idle, surrounded by melting snow with its wipers pulled away from the windshield. The Big Oak Flat Information Station was already closed for the winter season.

Solitary ranger

A solitary federal law enforcement ranger was on patrol in a marked sport utility vehicle on Big Oak Flat Road, an extension of Highway 120 inside the park. Melting snow from the most recent storm clung to roadside trees and carpeted the ground on both sides of the road.

The store at Crane Flat was shut and locked with “Sorry the Store is Closed” signs posted. The self-serve Chevron gas pumps appeared to be switched on and working.

Driving down into Yosemite Valley, there were few motorists on the road in both directions. A controlled burn put out a column of smoke off the side road to Foresta. At Half Dome View, a family of four stood alone looking toward snow-capped El Capitan. They said shuttle buses in Yosemite Valley were running.

“We went on a ranger talk Friday and it was incredible,” said Abby A. of Agoura Hills in Los Angeles County, who declined to give her last name. She was with her son, Miles, 4, daughter Sarah, 2, and her husband, Zack. “The little ones got their ranger badges. With the shutdown, it’s too bad other kids won’t be able to.”

Down in Yosemite Valley, restrooms were locked in the Bridalveil Fall parking lot. The same Closed signs were posted, stating “The NPS will not operate parks during the shutdown period, and no visitor services will be provided. The NPS will not issue permits, conduct educational programs, maintain roads or walkways (including plowing or ice melting), or provide visitor information.”

Frozen spray and ice clung to the cliffs on both sides of 617-foot Bridalveil Fall. A half-dozen cars were parked at the popular boulevard-size parking area below El Capitan, which is normally jammed with scores of cars and tour buses. One visitor’s vehicle was parked at the meadow-side view for 1,430-foot Upper Yosemite Fall, also adorned with some ice and snow.

Chapel open

Close by there was one pickup truck parked in the lot outside Yosemite Chapel. The doors to the chapel were unlocked, and inside the pews were empty. A multi-colored tapestry proclaiming “Joy” dominated the back wall of the non-denominational chapel, which dates to 1901.

Below Royal Arches, one visitor in a silver Mustang was parked and taking cell phone photos and video of the eastward panorama that includes Half Dome.

Half Dome Village Ice Rink, which is run by the park concessioner Aramark, was open for business with smoke coming off an outdoor fire pit and a few people warming themselves close by. Experienced skaters and newbies circled the rink counterclockwise below 4,000-foot vertical cliffs that reach up toward Glacier Point.

Aramark employees at the skate rental shack said it was a normal day for most concession-run businesses in Half Dome Village, the new name for Curry Village. That appeared to be the case closer to the heart of old Curry Village, where the Mountaineering School and a store selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs were open.

A crowd of more than 100 visitors wearing packs and hauling suitcases stood in a close circle near white-walled tent cabins in the old Curry Village camp. Three full-size charter buses sat idling with orange-and-red rear signals illuminated.

Over in Yosemite Village on the northeast side of Yosemite Valley, an undated sign on the human resources office for Aramark’s Yosemite Hospitality stated “Effectively immediately, Human Resources will open every Wednesday at 9 a.m. We apologize for any inconvenience.” The sign also indicated the human resources office was open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every other weekday.

Some shuttle buses were running. The Ansel Adams Gallery, an independent concessioner that dates to 1902, was open. The Yosemite Visitor Center and Theater was closed.

Degnan’s Kitchen was open with a handful of visitors and no lines for food. A small mountain of handmade biscuits was piled up next to the $5 black bean and corn chili, and the unflustered cook said take two. The Village Store was open and uncrowded, and a few people shopped for snacks and groceries.

Padlocks on restrooms

At Camp 4, it looked like a typical winter Sunday evening. Shadows were creeping along the valley floor and the parking lot was mostly empty. The popular campground is normally unstaffed in winter months, with campers asked to self-register.

But signs of the federal government shutdown were evident. The same closed signs seen at Big Oak Flat and other locations stated “Campgrounds will be unstaffed and reservations will not be honored. Visitors will not be asked to leave campgrounds unless there is a life and safety risk.”

Jared Hodgdon and Salina Mae, both 24 and from Merced, said they come to Yosemite frequently and Sunday seemed like any other winter day in the park. They were surprised to hear of the government shutdown and looked at the signs posted on the ranger’s shack at Cap 4.

“It was a normal day for us,” Hodgdon said. “Not many people.”

“It’s been a bit more quiet than a regular weekend,” Mae said. “But it makes sense. Seems like there’s a lot less people.”

A sign indicated restrooms at Camp 4 would remain open, but metal padlocks were locked on the doors.

Robert Navarette, 65, of Pomona, said he’d been staying at Camp 4 about a week. He said there were about 60 people at Camp 4 when he arrived the previous weekend, then about 100, then a dwindling number as the weekend came to an end. He and a friend were the only people visible at sundown yesterday. A half-dozen dome tents were set up at other campsites.

A Yosemite Search and Rescue volunteer pulled up in a sport utility vehicle. He said he could not be quoted by name. He said he was with YODOGS, the canine search and rescue unit.

He said with the shutdown the National Park Service was not using YOSAR, but he’d volunteered anyway. He said he’d collected a park radio to monitor public safety transmissions and it had been a quiet Sunday, with no searches or other emergencies.

On Twitter and Facebook, Yosemite National Park communications staff stated in posts dated noon Saturday, “During a federal government shutdown, we do not monitor or update social media. Some Yosemite areas are accessible, however access may change without notice, and there will be limited NPS-provided services.”

They summarized that visitors can dial 911 for emergencies, but response times may be increased, the Yosemite Valley Clinic will remain open, and roads and trails are normally open in winter will remain open.

For more information on the federal government shutdown in Yosemite, call (209) 372-0200 or visit www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/viewpoints.htm online.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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