The woman in the lobby of the boat rental office at Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell was looking frantic. She and her husband had just driven a couple of days to pick up their houseboat rental for the week, with family and friends joining them the next day before they took off up the lake.
And the lady behind the counter was repeating the unfathomable: You should get off the dock as quickly as you can, she was saying — preferably by midnight. Congress had just failed to reach agreement on ways to avoid a shutdown, and the rental agency was being told by federal officials to allow no one to leave the dock the next morning. If you're still tied up, we can't let you go out.
The woman couldn't process what she was hearing, and thought my advice was crazy. But what I told her was this: Get what you have and who you have on the boat, untie, and move up the lake. You can figure out later where and how to pick up the rest of your party when they arrive, but don't stay at the dock any longer than you have to.
I'm not sure she understood, but she was coming to realize what the feckless fools in Washington hell-bent on trying to stop Obamacare were doing to her and many thousands, maybe millions of Americans: fouling up their short-term plans, all because of a stupid game of political one-upsmanship that would not only keep travelers out of National Parks but stop mortgage deals from going through, keep new airplanes on the ground for lack of final paperwork signatures, put many federal employees out of work (and require some to keep working, but without pay at least temporarily) and in short, make a spectacle of an America badly led, if that is the right word, by a dysfunctional government.
The shutdown affected my crowd as well, though not as adversely as some. We had planned for more than a year to visit western national parks, winding up at a place I have longed to see for many years — Zion National Park. We drove out from Meadows of Dan, taking our time and seeing places and things we had never taken the time to see: Robert Western World honky tonk in Nashville, the Arch in St. Louis, the final home game for the Royals in K.C., dinner with our granddaughter in Boulder and the spectacular drive through the Rockies.
In Salt Lake City we rented a 32-foot RV — much like a boat on wheels, with its 120-volt and 12-volt systems, the on-board generator, the balky propane oven — and picked up our daughter, who lives in Layton, and son, who flew down from Boise. Over the next week we stopped in Moab to see Arches National Park, a bit of Canyonlands, Dead Horse State Park and on to Lake Powell, where we parked the bus, rented a 19-foot powerboat and went roaring way up the lake to look for ancient ruins and petroglyphs left by early artists thousands of years ago. It was when we got back that we found out the government was shutting down — and altering our plans.
So Zion was out, but there's a world of things to see in Utah — particularly because our daughter's boyfriend, who had been tramping around the hills of the west since his boyhood — knew where to go and how to get there. So we saw most of Capitol Reef National Park (there's a major highway through it that the government couldn't shut down) as well as parts of Bryce Canyon (there's a way to brink of the canyon, just behind Ruby's Inn less than a mile) and some fabulous state parks — Kodachrome State Park in particular — and a hair-raising ride along the razorback ridges of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. You haven't thoroughly sweated through until you've driven a big bus with what seems like 6 feet of play in the steering wheel on a windy day along a seemingly narrow track without even a hint of guard rails along the way! And the ride through Dixie National Forest — so named in 1905 or so because it seemed as warm there as a day in the Old South — was gorgeous, aspens ablaze up above 8,000 feet and every mile another landscape portrait you'd be happy to have hanging in your den.
The shutdown was hurting a lot of folks, including those who run small businesses and depend upon tourism this time of year to help them through the lean months when roads are frozen and no one is traveling much. But we also found what we have seen so often in this country: Friendly, determined people making the best of a trying situation, helping one another out, passing along advice on where to go and what to do while those who run the federal government continued to bicker and prolong a needless and ultimately useless shutdown. We had a wonderful time, saw things we never quite imagined, brought home priceless memories, and made plans to go back west in a couple of years for more. But we know better than to trust the federal government to keep things on track. Thank goodness for state parks!