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Joshua Tree National Park: Thoughts on damage inflicted during USA Government Shutdown

Evening in Joshua Tree National Park ~ Buy Print

USA Government Shut-Down

Plenty of news reports have been circulating recently stating that Joshua Tree National Park has sustained the MOST amount of damage as a result of the US Government’s recent 35 day shut-down.  National Park gates remained open with free admission to visitors during the shut-down. This resulted in an increase in visitors while the staff it takes to keep these parks running efficiently were sent home. It was a recipe for disaster.

Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park ~ Buy Print

Media Reports

The media is rife with reports of overflowing pit toilets in Joshua Tree, a National Park with no water source.  Reportedly, unsupervised visitors cut down a Joshua Tree and knocked one over after climbing on it. People drove four wheel drive vehicles into protected areas and damaged the delicate desert floor. Some say this damage could take CENTURIES to heal; “What’s happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years,” Curt Sauer, a former superintendent of the park, said at a rally on Saturday (Jan. 26).

Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park ~ Buy Print

What is the Truth?

How much of this damage was truly a result of the Government shut-down? How much of this has been hyped by the media? I believe it’s difficult to know for sure.  In my experience travelling to any major tourist attraction such as Joshua Tree, you tend to see idiot tourists doing inappropriate, destructive, and downright ignorant things, all the time. It certainly doesn’t take lack of supervision for that to happen.

Desert Harmony

My Experience in Joshua Tree

We spent 6 days in Joshua Tree at the end of 2018, and we saw a total of 2 Park Rangers in that entire time. If you have a problem with something while you’re in that park, or you want to report someone damaging trees, there is no ranger station to report it to and there’s no cell phone reception. You would need to luck out by bumping into a random Park Ranger, or you would have to drive all the way out of the park to the Visitor’s Centre to get assistance. These parks are enormous!

Sunrise in Jumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua Tree National Park ~ Buy Print

The Reality is…

During our visit to Joshua Tree, we found plenty of garbage in the campground and we saw tire tracks in areas that are supposed to be protected.  And this was long before the recent shut-down happened. The reality is, even when the Parks are fully staffed there are visitors violating park rules all the time. There’s no amount of staffing that could patrol and police all of it. Again, the vastness of the Parks means people are going to do what they’re going to do.

Desert Evening ~ Buy Print

I’m certainly not discounting the real damage that occurred in the National parks due to the shut-down.  There is a bigger problem though plaguing the entire world and that’s over tourism and it’s effects on local ecosystems. What the solution is, I don’t know. But as a traveller it’s definitely something that bothers me in many of the places we go.

Balancing Act – Joshua Tree National Park ~ Buy Print

My Takeaway

My takeaway from all of this is for the unique beauty of Joshua Tree National Park to be an inspiration for us all to do better. Tread lightly. Respect our wild places, and leave no trace. Tell your friends!

Joshua Tree Milky Way ~ Buy Print

Small things can make a difference

At the end of the day, we are all connected and even our small actions have lasting impacts. One person can make the decision to be conscious of their actions, whether someone with authority is watching, or not. Imagine if we ALL thought of the consequences of our actions!?!


Have you been to Joshua Tree? Let me know your thoughts on this article in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “Joshua Tree National Park: Thoughts on damage inflicted during USA Government Shutdown

  1. Beautiful photos! It’s such a shame about the damage 🙁

    1. Thank you Sally! Yes, it is a shame and a good reminder.

  2. Beautiful desert landscapes! I’m inspired by your words and images to tread lightly during my travels.

    1. Thanks Tom! Thank you for being a low impact traveller.

  3. Love your photos Heather! Very sad about the damage during the 35 day temper tantrum.

    1. Thanks John! Yes, very sad indeed 🙁

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