Utah To Reopen National Parks By The Weekend

There’s finally a bit of good news for travelers impacted by the Federal Government shutdown with the announcement that Utah will reopen five of its national parks despite the ongoing closures around the country.

Utah made a deal with the government to pay to keep its parks open. The state will cough up more than $166,000 a day for up to 10 days for the privilege, with the money going to the National Park Service.

In total, eight Utah attractions will reopen to visitors. This includes five national parks, namely Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Park. In addition, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, as well as the Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments will once again welcome tourists.As we’ve mentioned before, the shutdown hasn’t stopped some visitors from sneaking into the parks, with a number of tourists caught jumping the fences as Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. The reopening of the parks will ensure that visitors are able to get inside and that they pay to do so – a key factor behind the state’s decision to go against the shutdown.

Utah’s Governor says the state’s national parks are fundamental to the local economy and the closures had come at a particularly bad time. Good weather tends to draw large crowds in October, meaning the parks usually earn about $100 million during this month alone.

Utah’s national parks will reopen by Saturday.

Travel Back Thursday: Pennsylvania Avenue

With the government shutdown consuming much of the news, we thought we’d go back a few years for today’s featured photo. Taken in the early 1970s, we see President Richard Nixon and politician Patrick Moynihan examining the construction on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We’d love to feature your photos and videos on Gadling, so please add them to our Flickr Pool (with Creative Commons licensing!), tag @GadlingTravel on Instagram or email us at OfTheDay@gadling.com.

The Shutdown Affects Travel, Twitter Responds As Usual

The government shutdown is officially happening, and various travel-related agencies are being affected, most notably National Parks. Air traffic controllers are still hard at work, but there’s no way Yosemite will be able to celebrate its 123rd birthday (although Google is trying hard).

As usual, people are responding to the shutdown and its affects on travel on Twitter.

Some are concerned about the international tourists:

Some are hopeful that eventually things will get back to normal:

Others are thinking that this could provide uneducated travelers with a learning opportunity:

And beyond an opportunity, at least it will mean more leg room:

And then there are those who are just really excited for what the shutdown just might mean for them:

But wait, your pets can’t come with you??

Hold on, someone may have found a solution to said shutdown issue:

And if you’re traveling soon, not to worry; you can still get a passport.

Most importantly though, let’s all take a moment to think about what this all means for space travel:

Cutbacks Have Smithsonian Down, But Not Out

Government cutbacks have affected travel in a number of ways. Passport applications and renewals are taking longer, as is the process for requesting a visa. Traveling abroad, less security at U.S. facilities means less protection for Americans. National parks have closed some facilities and delayed opening of others. Now, even the Smithsonian Institution in Washington is feeling the impact of budget cuts.

“A reduction in a contract for security that supplements the Smithsonian security force affects some museums. The safety and security of the public and our collections will not be compromised,” said a notice on the Smithsonian website.

While no major exhibitions will be closed, the commons in the Smithsonian Castle, one room in the African Mosaic exhibit and sections of the permanent collection galleries in the Hirshhorn Museum will be unavailable for a short time.

On a positive note, the Smithsonian, a top budget travel destination, has a number of new exhibits underway of particular interest to fans of space travel that are unaffected.Extraordinary Voyages: 50 Years of Exploration is a NASA-supported lecture series at the National Air and Space Museum that started with a story that began 50 years ago when Mariner 2 flew by Venus and became the first successful mission to another planet. Upcoming events include a live webcast of the Exploring Space lecture, Vesta in the Light of Dawn on May 7, 2013. This program continues also because of support by aerospace contractor Aerojet.

Featured, fully-open exhibits at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., also include “Time and Navigation,” “Moving Beyond Earth,” “Fifty Years of Human Space Flight,” “Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight,” and “The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age.

This video has more on how budget cuts are affecting the Smithsonian:

[Photo credit – Flickr user The Uprooted Photographer]

Making Sense Of Biden’s $1 Million Hotel Bill In Europe

So much for Amtrak Joe. The government spent $1 million on two nights in Europe for the Vice President and his entourage last month, according to government contracts posted here. CNN confirmed with the State Department that the contracts are legitimate and calls them a rare look at White House travel expenses.

The eye-popping numbers: $585,000 for one night at the Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand and $459,000 for a night at the Hyatt Regency London the Churchill Hotel. (Plus $321,000 for a limousine company, although Biden’s own limousine is flown over for such trips.)

The nice, round $1 million-for-two-nights number is lighting up Twitter with outrage and jabs. But the cost breaks down to about $500 per night at a five-star hotel in the world’s most expensive cities. Nothing weird about that.

So why is the bill so high? The charges cover 136 rooms, not just Biden’s. His entourage includes Secret Service, military, a medical unit, and a team that screens and serves his food, CNN reports. The room block may include reporters, though the government doesn’t pick up their tab. Some rooms might be used as office space.

Some members of the entourage stay more than one night. The contract for the London hotel is for 893 room nights, which sounds like a lot, but it averages out to 6.5 nights per room.

The cost could include paying guests to relocate, too.

CNN ran the figures by officials from past Republican administrations, all of who said the costs were reasonable. One former senior White House staffer who supervised travel arrangements told CNN that it sounds normal to have as many as 136 rooms.

The government doesn’t let hotels compete for these contracts or security reasons. Evidently it doesn’t use Priceline, either.

[Via CNN]

[Photo credit: From documents posted on FedBizOpps.gov]