YOSEMITE VALLEY -- Thousands of visitors were prepared to leave the national park here by 3 p.m. Thursday in response to a federal government shutdown that ruined vacations and battered a local recreation economy already reeling from the huge Rim fire.
Park rangers barred newcomers in the park Tuesday, but allowed those already here or with campground or lodge reservations to stay two more days.
Several disappointed visitors said the abrupt closure ruined plans months or years in the making to vacation in this popular valley with breathtaking views of high Sierra granite peaks, cliffs, and waterfalls. Their disappointments, multiplied by thousands, spread out into the region's tourist-dependent economy, already suffering from the still smouldering Rim fire that burned more tham 250,000 acres.
Two British and two Alaskan mountain climbers said they had to scuttle El Capitan ascent as they must leave their campground a week earlier than they expected.
"We came all the way from England to climb and get to the top of El Capitan, but now we won't get the chance," Tim Larrad, a 52-year-old retired police officer from Worcester said at his campsite Tuesday night. "It's very disappointing. This climb was lifetime stuff. The trip took a lot of time to plan and prepare for."
"I know all governments had their issues," he said, "but I never would have thought the federal government would shut down."
Larrad said he has dreamed of climbing of climbing El Capitan for more than 30 years since he saw an inspiring photograph of rock climbers on granite wall in Yosemite Valley.
He and three climbing friends spent a week scouting routes and practicing on the granite peak.
Park spokesman Scott Gediman said rangers have no choice but to get the last guests to leave by 3 p.m. Thursday to be consistent with the partial shutdown of the federal government due to major political fight in Congress.
Larrad found his plight ironic. "As as police officer, I've had to evict people at times, but I've never been evicted before."
Andy Clarke, a retired British high school principal in the climbing group, said the closure of the national parks is a double indignity because several other prime climbing spots are in national parks like Joshua Tree National Monument in Southern California and Red Rocks National Conservation Area near Las Vegas.
"We don't know where else to go so we may fly home early," said Clarke, a resident of Walsall.
Several other Yosemite guests said Tuesday and Wednesday bemoaned their upended vacations.
Whittier resident Vincent Ramirez arrived at the park with his family Tuesday afternoon in a recreational vehicle only to be told he could stay for only two of the seven nights he had reserved in the Upper Pine Campground.
"When we checked in, they told us to be ready to leave," Ramirez said Tuesday night as he made a lemon and watercress salad at a camp table. "It's upsetting. Why do these politicians who cannot get along have to take it out on the public.
Ramirez, a retired truck driver, said he spent more than $200 on gasoline to make the trip in his recreational vehicle along with his wife, mother and father.
He said he had heard speculation about a congressional budget fight but he didn't think it would come to a partial shutdown of the federal government.
On Thursday, Ramirez plans to drive back to his home in Southern California and try to figure out another place to spend the rest of the family vacation.
Rita Norris, a New Zealand tourist, will get in her two reserved camping nights before the closure, but the Capitol fight ruined her plan to continue the vacation at Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks.
"Our whole plan is up in the air," Norris said in a Yosemite campsite where she and her family had driven a rented recreational vehicle."This is the first time for a trip like this to the states. ... I've been planning this trip with my family for three years."
She also was unable to visit many popular sites in Yosemite Tuesday because the park roads to Glacier Point, a famous overlook, and Mariposa Grove, were closed.
"I'm in shock and disbelief that a nation could do this," Norris said. "We'll get on though, and make the best of it."
Not all Yosemite guests were upset about being forced to leave earlier than they planned.
Frank Vendetti of Orangevale near Sacramento said he doesn't mind being booted out a week early because he and his wife regularly visit the park once or twice a year.
"It's not a big thing to go home early. We're close," Vendetti said at a campground with his wife and their two Maltese mix dogs. "I feel real sorry for people that came from other countries."
Some Yosemite visitors considered themselves lucky to squeeze in a visit -- or a wedding in one case -- just before the closure.
Pleasanton couple Ralph Kaposting and Valerie Brosdal were married in a park chapel and enjoyed a wedding reception at the stately Ahwahnee lodge just a day before the park was to begin closing
"We feel very lucky," Brosdal said. "We had the perfect wedding and we're going home before people are being told to leave. The person who married us said, "You're going to be the last wedding here for a while."
The Yosemite park closure delivered another blow to neighboring communities with hotels and motels that pick up the Yosemite visitors who can't get reservations inside the park.
"We are just beginning to get over the effects of Rim fire, and now the park closure could put us back in a hole," said Laura Jensen, owner of the Firefall Coffee shop on Highway 120 in Groveland.
The nearly contained Rim fire burned more than 257,000 acres, some of it in Yosemite National Park. While the fire didn't reach the popular valley area with lodging and prime tourist destinations, the fire closed roads and caused many people to cancel trips to the park
Peggy Mosley, owner of the Groveland Hotel, said her community's economy will suffer dearly if the partial government closure lasts long.
"The government shutdown in 1995 hurt us a lot, especially when it lasted over Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we get a lot of our winter business," Mosley said. "There is no excuse for this government shutdown. I think maybe should replace the whole bunch of politicians and start over with a clean slate." The 1995 shutdown went from Nov. 14 through 19, and then again from Dec. 16 to Jan. 6, 1996.
To carry out this year's closure, Yosemite National Park furloughed 666 park service employees and kept on 150 rangers, firefighters and other employees deemed essential, said Gediman, the park spokesman.
The Delaware North company that operates park lodges and restaurants is trying to determine how many of its 1,400 workers in the park will be put on unpaid vacations, said company spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro.