Shutdown Status: States Pay To Reopen Some National Parks

Government shutdown national parks
Flickr, David Yu

We’re going on two weeks of government shutdown, with tourists hoping to see national parks having to sneak in or go home. Thousands of park workers have been furloughed and local businesses who generate income from tourism are feeling the pinch. Several U.S. states are taking matters into their own hands, effectively paying the federal government so that they can reopen.

The status as of today:

Arizona: It’s costing $651,000 to open the Grand Canyon for a week, though no money is allotted past that time and some local businesses worry it won’t help them in the long run.

Colorado: Over 10,000 visitors went out the Rocky Mountain National Park this weekend after the state reached an agreement to pay over $40,000 per day to keep it open.

New York: The Statue of Liberty re-opened yesterday, costing New York $61,000 per day out of its tourism budget — but visitors generate an estimated $350,000 daily.

South Dakota: Mount Rushmore will cost over $15,000 a day to reopen, with corporate donors helping the state open the park again today.

Utah: 8 attractions will reopen today, including Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, at a cost of $166,000 per day.

See the status of all the national parks here.

Part Of Wounded Knee Massacre Site To Be Sold

Wounded Knee
Part of the Wounded Knee massacre site, the scene of one of the worst attacks on Native Americans in U.S. history, may soon be sold to private interests, the BBC reports.

In 1890 in South Dakota, there were widespread fears among the white population that the Sioux were going to stage an uprising. A drought and insufficient government rations had led many Native Americans to the brink of starvation, and some had turned to the Ghost Dance religion, a revivalist faith that many whites interpreted as warlike.

The U.S. military tried to relocate the local Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation but one band refused to go and fled in the middle of the night. They were eventually tracked down to Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, the soldiers tried to disarm them. One Sioux refused to give up his gun. A soldier tried to grab it and it went off. The nervous whites then fired into the crowd.

In the ensuing battle 25 U.S. soldiers were killed, but the death toll among the Sioux was far higher. It’s unclear exactly how many were killed but estimates vary from 250 to 300, with at least half of them being women and children who hadn’t resisted. One mass grave, shown here, was used to bury 146 bodies.

Ever since that bloody day, the massacre site has been of deep significance to the Sioux and the Native American community in general. Little has been built there, however, and now a 40-acre plot that’s owned by someone outside the tribe is up for sale.

Some Sioux are calling on President Obama to make the land, already a National Historic Landmark, a National Monument, a status that would give it more federal funding and protection.

The landowner says that he has tried to sell the land to the tribe but was rebuffed. He’s giving the tribe until May 1 to come up with the $3.9 million price tag before he puts it on the open market. Sioux leaders say the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest regions in the country, has little money to spare and that the asking price is far above market price.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

5 Unfinished Landmarks Worth A Visit


la sagrada familia


Many travelers associate cities, and even countries, with their iconic landmarks, like New York City with the Statue of Liberty, Paris with the Eiffel Tower and Pisa with its famous Leaning Tower. But what about those famous landmarks that never quite made it to completion?

We’ve rounded up five great places around the world where you’ll find “nearly famous” monuments worth visiting.

Barcelona, Spain: La Sagrada Familia

Still under construction after more than a century, The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia, which translates to Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (see image above), is one of the most visited monuments in the country, with nearly 3 million visitors each year. Scheduled for completion sometime between 2026 and 2028 (as a best guess, anyway), the tower and cathedral was visited by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

national monument of scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland: National Monument of Scotland

Construction began in 1826 on this memorial to honor Scottish soldiers who died during the Napoleonic Wars. Located on the top of Calton Hill, the monument was modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, but, due to lack of funding, was left unfinished. Today, the monument is nicknamed everything from “Scotland’s Disgrace,” to “Edinburgh’s Folly.”

mayan ruins

Chiapas, Mexico: Tonina Maya Ruins
Between the fourth century and 900 A.D., this area was a bustling mecca of construction and today still serves as a major tourist attraction; however, construction stopped suddenly in the year 909. Visitors today can tour a museum and see many gruesome depictions of how the Mayans dealt with their enemies. (Ed. Note, 4/24: Please note that the ruins pictured above are in Palenque, another Mayan site.)

sleeping beauty castle
Bavaria, Germany: Neuschwanstein Castle
The model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria for Richard Wagner, but the king died in 1886 before the castle was completed. It was opened to the public afterwards and has become a major tourist attraction for the region, with more than 1.3 million people visiting annually.


crazy horse
South Dakota, USA: Crazy Horse
Built in response to Mt. Rushmore, this memorial to Lakota leader Crazy Horse is the world’s largest mountain sculpture. Carving began in 1948 and has been continually delayed due to lack of funds and refusal to accept government backing. Yet, it’s surrounded by a museum and welcomes bus tours and more than one million visitors per year.

[Image Credit: Ulf Liljankoski, Ben Christian Photos, Archer10, Nite Dan, JJSchad]

In America’s ‘McFarthest’ Place, Strippers And Coyote Hunting But No McDonald’s

south dakotaIf Rebecca Bierman gets an urge for a Big Mac, she has at least four options to satisfy the craving.

“I can go to Pierre or Sturgis, here in South Dakota,” says Bierman, a farmer and rancher who lives in Glad Valley, South Dakota. “Or I can go to Dickinson or Bismarck in North Dakota.”

The McDonald’s in Pierre is 142 miles from her home, the Sturgis branch is 147 miles away, and the golden arches in Dickinson and Bismarck are 146 and 159 miles away respectively. According to Stephen Von Worley, an artist and scientist from California, the area between Glad Valley and Meadow, South Dakota, is the “McFarthest” place in the country, that is, the part of America that is farthest away from a McDonald’s location. But there are places to eat in the area and one establishment even has strippers and coyote hunting contests.


sparky's restaurant isabel south dakotaAccording to Bierman, who grows wheat and oats along with her husband, Gene, there are only two houses with a grand total of three people in Glad Valley. There are no restaurants or businesses. She lives a mile and a half outside of town, if you can call Glad Valley that, and her husband is the town’s volunteer fire department.

“We’re very, very rural,” she says.

Bierman likes Big Macs but not enough to drive hours away to get them. Her husband wouldn’t eat at a Mickey D’s even if there was one across the street. When they want to go out to eat, there are two restaurants that are each about 20 miles away. There’s Sparky’s, a place that serves “regular American food” and is famous for its caramel nut apple pie in Isabel, a hamlet that, according to South Dakota magazine, has two farm implement dealers, a grain elevator, a medical clinic, a grocery, a hardware store and a few other businesses.

And there’s Smoky’s Bar & Grill, the only restaurant in tiny Meadow. A little further afield in Dupree, there’s a family restaurant called the Ranch House Café and an hour away, in a place called Eagle Butte, there’s a Dairy Queen, a Taco John and a gas station with a deli inside. She isn’t exactly spoiled for choice, but she isn’t complaining.

“We eat at home a lot,” she says.

strippers at smoky's bar and grill in meadow south dakotaWhen you live in a town as small as Glad Valley, you learn not to burn bridges and Bierman was guarded when asked which place she prefers.

“I could never tell you which place I like better,” she says. “That would get me in trouble around here.”

If McDonald’s decided to open a location in the area, would it be popular?

“I’m sure people would go there,” says Cindy Longbrake, the county auditor for South Dakota’s Ziebach County, which includes Glad Valley, plus the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. “I don’t make a special trip to go to McDonald’s but if they opened up around here, I’d probably go sometimes.”

Maybe so, but McDonald’s doesn’t have fully nude strippers or coyote hunting contests, as Smoky’s does.

“We’re an unincorporated town, so the girls can go fully nude. They don’t even have to wear pasties on their breasts,” says Lisa Wagner, the owner of Smoky’s.

Wagner said that the place has been open on and off since the 1950’s when a guy nicknamed Smoky ran the place.

“When Smoky owned this place, if you were old enough to reach the bar, you were old enough to get a drink,” she says.

coyote hunting contest at smoky's bar and grill in meadow south dakotaThese days, Smoky’s is known for their charbroiled burgers and steaks, and their Sunday buffet, which includes three choices of meat, a full salad bar and coffee or lemonade for $11, or $9.50 for seniors. Every so often, Wagner has strippers come in to dance and offer table and lap dances. She lives next door to the bar and says the town has six houses and a total of five residents and five dogs.

“We’re down to five people because Bernie just recently left the nursing home, Renee passed away from cancer and her husband lives out at the lake now,” she says. “And we have one empty house, the woman died years ago but they’ve haven’t tried to sell it.”

Wagner is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 19 years. She doesn’t mind living in a rural area but says that her daughter, who is “kind of a vegetarian” missed Taco Bell and other fast food places when they moved to the community about a decade ago. For the moment, business is decent and Wagner isn’t worried about McDonald’s coming in to steal her customers.

“People call ahead with their orders, so we’re kind of fast food,” she says. “And besides, our burgers are much better than theirs anyways.”

[Photo credits: Frago on Flickr; Sparky's, Smoky's]

Video: Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is one of the more overlooked destinations in the entire American park system. Located in South Dakota, the park features otherworldly landscape where you would expect to spot NASA’s Curiosity Rover. Instead, sharp-eyed visitors will catch a glimpse of a surprisingly diverse amount of wildlife, including bison, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep and the elusive black-footed ferret.

The video below captures just a hint of the beauty that you’ll find in the park, which is punctuated with interesting displays of light and shadows. If you haven’t ever been to the Badlands, I highly recommend it.


Badlands National Park” from Matt Brass on Vimeo.