The government shutdown and overflowing toilets force Joshua Tree National Park to close

(CNN)California’s Joshua Tree National Park on Wednesday becomes the latest casualty of the federal government’s partial shutdown, with campgrounds closing due to health and safety concerns over near-capacity pit toilets.

Unlike some previous government shutdowns, in which national parks closed entirely, gates have remained opened under the Trump administration, though parks are severely understaffed.
Joshua Tree, which covers more than 792,000 acres of national park from Palm Springs north to the town of Joshua Tree, will remain open during the shutdown. But its popular campgrounds will close at noon Wednesday, according to the National Park Service.
    “The park is being forced to take this action for health and safety concerns as vault toilets reach capacity,” the park service said. “In addition to human waste in public areas, driving off-road and other infractions that damage the resource are becoming a problem.”
    Signs at Joshua Tree informed campers this week that the grounds would close “for the safety of visitors and park resources” due to a “lapse in federal appropriations.”
    Handwritten signs urged visitors: “Pack out your trash. There are no trash services at this time.”
    “It’s impacted (our lives) for fun, but it’s impacted people’s livelihoods and people’s jobs, and it’s disappointing because, you know, is a wall really that important?” visiting Texan Lori Neblett said, referring to President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to back off a demand for $5 billion for his long-promised border wall. The figure remains a nonstarter for Democrats, leaving Congress at an impasse that triggered the partial shutdown.
    “I think that we don’t need the wall,” Neblett said. “Maybe a little more border security but not a wall. We could use people coming from Mexico to help, you know, with jobs, and they help fuel the economy as well.”

    People can enter ‘at the visitor’s sole risk’

    The shutdown has also prevented the park service from making staff available to “provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response,” the department said.
    “Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk,” the park service said this week.
    Trash collection has stopped, along with road and walkway maintenance.
    Rattlesnake Canyon will close to reduce the number of potential search-and-rescue events for rangers already spread thin because of the shutdown, the park service said.
    The shutdown has also left a stinking mess at Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in eastern California.
    Yosemite, the nation’s third most-visited national park, remains open but various campgrounds, as well as snow play areas, are “closed due to human waste issues and lack of staffing,” according to its website.
    On the Yosemite Twitter account, officials said Sunday a “lack of the restrooms and resulting impacts from human waste” forced campgrounds to close.
    “People entering closed areas are being cited,” the tweet said.
    The visitor center and museum at Yosemite have closed, and emergency response times may increase during the shutdown, officials said.

    Communities and wildlife also harmed

    The shutdown not only hurts the parks but also surrounding communities that rely on an estimated $18 million a day from tourism, said Kristen Brengel, vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association.
    “It’s really a big deal for Joshua Tree,” she said of the campground closings. “This is a very popular season for people that come there.”
    Staff shortages have created a sense of “lawlessness” in the parks, Brengel said.
    “People are bringing in dogs and drones, and there are instances where people aren’t following the rules, and it is not good for the wildlife and the environment,” she said.
    Joshua Tree Superintendent David Smith, in a statement, thanked the “local businesses, volunteer groups, and tribal members” who have stepped up to collect trash and maintain grounds during the shutdown.
    “This is a reflection on their efforts and the park is very fortunate to have a community that exhibits the kind of care and concern witnessed over the last week,” he said.
    But volunteer efforts can’t supplant the work of the park service, said David Lamfrom, director of the California Desert and National Wildlife Programs of the National Parks Conservation Association.
      “People are walking off trails, bringing their dogs,” he said. “People are trampling and destroying the things they want to preserve without knowing it. … People are camping where they want or showing up really early or late at certain watering holes so animals like bighorn sheep won’t come down to drink.”
      Key parts of the federal government have been impacted since December 22 by the shutdown, including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Interior, State and Housing and Urban Development.

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      How Traveling With a Guide Dog Opens Up a Whole New World

      I remember the first time I went to the airport with my guide dog Corky. She was on the job, guiding me through throngs of harried passengers, head up, tail wagging, relishing her job. I knew shed be focused, after all, in training wed worked together in Midtown Manhattan and shed been alert and focused. Shed be just the same in the United terminal at JFK. Suddenly a man approached us. By his accent he seemed German. Excuse me, he said, but Ive been so much missing my dog.

      If you go everywhere with a guide dog, as I do, you soon find youre more than just a blind traveler: often youre an impromptu provider of animal comfort to strangers. After twenty plus years of working with my guide dogs around the world Ive come to understand how deprived of animal contact millions of people really are.

      Human beings are meant to have animals in their lives, and while pet ownership in the US is at an all-time high, Im often approached by strangerson sidewalks, in airportswho say roughly the same thing: I wish I could have a dog but my landlord wont allow it. Or: I have to travel for my livelihood and I cant have an animal. Or: Can I pet your dog?

      Now, as a public service I will tell you that a guide dog mustnt be petted or distracted when its working and it is always working while wearing its recognizable harness. But when that harness comes off? The dog knows its love time. And I shouldnt admit this: but I sometimes take off my guide dogs harness just to let these folks pet her.

      Its a funny thing, two complete strangers standing beside an airport Starbucks, while unexpected gentleness and affection tumbles out.

      Whats a dog for? Its estimated that dogs entered the human circle as far back as 30,000 years ago. Did they come for our garbage? Maybe they came because we had fire? Sometimes I like to joke that they liked our singing. Ill make a stab and say they came to us because, frankly, they liked us more than we liked ourselves.

      As for science, we know dogs, like humans, possess mirror neuronstheir brains understand gestures and even seek to imitate them just as we do. When we yawn our friends yawn. A babys first word is often the word shes heard most. Many dogs know immediately how were feeling and interact with us accordingly.

      My first guide dog was a big yellow Labrador girl named Corky. I received her at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, one of the nations premier guide dog training schools. When I went there I thought Id be handed a smart dog who knew some commands and that would be it. I had no idea I was about to be changed by hertransformed really, so that the old me would be eclipsed entirely.

      I discovered with Corky and her trainers that I knew nothing about admiration. High school and college hadnt taught me a thing about appreciation and regards. Linda, one of Corkys trainers explained to our class of new guide dog users that guide dogs need praise.

      Our new dogs require praiselots of praise, said Linda. Its all in the voice. Nowadays a guide dog loves it when you say, Good dog with a tone of true joy. Try it! And we all said, Good dog, just as Linda had shown us.

      In that moment, Corky raised her face to look at me, her big yellow snout pointing straight up. And every dog in the room looked up at their respective human. Something palpable went around our circlethe star of praise that only dogs can see was released by our voices. Good dog! We said it again and again. Our overdramatized tones were like stylized laughter in an opera. All tails were wagging.

      We say, Good dog because Guiding Eyes dogs really want to work, said Linda. They have been through many months of training. These dogs enjoy their jobs. But just like you, they require praise. From this moment on you will be saying Good dog as much as a hundred times a day.

      Who affirms good things even a dozen times a day? Who makes talking goodness a habit of her or his minutes? I sat with my Corkys head on my shoe and thought about the talking bluesas a poet Id studied vocal sorrowbut never had I considered a running, day long practice of spoken good. Good dog would become my hourly practice and over time (though I didnt yet know it), dog-praise would change many of my habits of thought.

      So there I am with my guide dog in an airport. A man or woman approaches and he or she says I used to have a dog but I cant have one these days. Sometimes theyll say I had to put my dog down just last month. The pain is palpable.

      In my view praise also means admitting others into our own circle. It doesnt cost a thing to affirm others. My dog is always mirroring. She wants to praise me right back. And where strangers are concerned thats easy. So the harness comes off and there in the staid and arid terminal a handsome, genuine, far reaching, simple moment of shared love occurs.

      And then we all go our separate ways.

      Excerpted with permission from Have Dog Will Travel: A Poet's Journey by Stephen Kuusisto. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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      The Morbid Discovery That Led to Rios Only Slavery Museum

      Mercedes Guimares was renovating her Rio de Janeiro port-area house in 1996 when the construction workers began to uncover bones.

      At first, they thought they were the bones of cats and dogs.

      Whoever must have lived in your house previously, must have loved cats and dogs, the worker told Guimares. It seems like whenever their cats and dogs died, they buried them in the backyard.

      Guimares joined the worker in the backyard to see the bones. She dug through the dirt with her hands and unearthed teeth.

      I looked at the teeth and immediately knew that they werent from a cat or dog. They were from humans, Guimares, a 61-year-old Brazilian woman of Spanish and Portuguese heritage, told me.

      She then found another much smaller one, probably the teeth of a child. I was thinking that the previous owner killed his entire family, she said. She called a lawyer and the police telling them that she had purchased a house where someone in the family murdered the entire family. But then she backtracked.

      Wait a minute. This isnt just one, two, or three people. Theres tons of bones. I stopped to look at the six boxes of bones, and I knew this couldnt just be one family. She then called the neighborhoods resident historian, Antnio Carlos Machado. Through him she learned that her street had once been named Caminho do Cemitrio, Cemetery Path.

      Guimares immediately stopped the renovation work.

      I wanted to respect the dead, Guimares said.

      Guimares house was once the site of the Cemetrio dos Pretos Novos (Cemetery of the New Blacks), where recently arrived enslaved Africans were interred during the Atlantic slave trade. Her house became an archaeological site, with graduate students unearthing the remains in her yardall without the assistance of the city or the federal government. The remains of 26 Africans dating back to 1824, aged 3 to 25, were discovered. Brazilian social scientist Jlio Csar Medeiros da S. Pereira produced a masters thesis about the social history of the cemetery. At the time Guimares helped out with her husbands pesticide business, but she soon found a second callingto respectfully honor the Africans who arrived in Brazil and educate people about their journey.

      Over the next 20 years, Guimares turned her house into a private free museum and research institutethe Instituto Memria e Pesquisa Pretos Novos, or, Institute for the Memorial and Research of the New Blacks (IPN). This 3,500-square feet institute is the only place in Brazil that preserves the memory of the human cost of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Since the unearthing of the Cemetery of the New Blacks in 1996, Rio de Janeiro has come full-circle in confronting its past with the Atlantic Slave Trade.

      There was nobody who wanted to take care of this, said Guimares when asked why she decided to develop the institute. We saw that nobody wanted to research, nobody wanted to do anything.

      Starting in 1597, more than 1.9 million enslaved Africans arrived in Rio de Janeiro at ports near the center of the city. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, a project at Emory University, Brazil received about 4.9 million slaves through the Atlantic trade and mainland North America imported about 389,000.

      From 1810 until 1840, more than 750,000 Africans arrived at Rio de Janeiros Valongo Wharf, just 700 meters from Guimares house. Most of the new enslaved Africans were young men between the ages of 13 and 20 and many arrived terribly sick. The voyage wreaked havoc on their bodies, which were often covered in open sores and underfed. So many Africans, Pretos Novos (New Blacks), died soon after arriving in the New World, that the city had to find a burial place for them. The Cemetery of the New Blacks of the Valongo was located exactly where Guimares lives today from 1772 until 1830 and between 20,000 to 30,000 Africans were interred in the cemetery during this period. When German naturalist G. W. Freireyss encountered the cemetery in 1814, he found cadavers unearthed by a recent heavy rain, and dozens of bodies that had yet to be interred. An unbearable stench overtook the area and made the lives of locals miserable.

      By the mid-1990s, all evident ties of Rio de Janeiros port area to the Atlantic Slave Trade had been erased. The port where enslaved Africans had arrived had been cemented over. Valongo Street, at one time lined with shops that sold enslaved Africans, had been renamed Camerino Street.

      In the last seven years, Rio de Janeiros port area has increasingly become an Afro-Brazilian heritage destination. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 50,000 people visited IPN, double the number who visited between 2005 and 2013. In 2011, construction workers in the port area uncovered the Cais do Valongo (Valongo wharf), where more than 500,000 enslaved Africans arrived between 1811 and 1831. An extensive campaign by locals like Guimares led to its preservation and today people can visit its remnants. Last year UNESCO named the Cais de Valongo a World Heritage Site. Rios secretary of culture, Nilcemar Nogueira, has lofty dreams of building a Museum of Slavery and Freedom near the wharf. But this dream is far from realization.

      My first visit to the institute happened in 2015, three months after I moved to Rio de Janeiro to cover the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games. I wanted to learn about the citys black history so I signed on to take Sadakne Baroudis all-day Afro-Rio toura six-hour deep dive into the lives of Africans through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Baroudi, a black American expat, has been giving the tours for the last 10 years and it ends at IPN, the Cemetery of the New Blacks.

      I had imagined a small outdoor cemetery with simple, old tombs. I wasnt prepared to find a cemetery on a forgotten street lined with traditional Rio de Janeiro houses, restaurants, and bakeries. Guimares still lived in her house, but she had bought the building next to hers to create the institute. The exhibit area always features a contemporary art exhibit, and back then images from Candombl religious ceremonies covered the walls. The institutes library collection includes every major book published about Afro-Brazilian history and culture.

      Baroudi and Guimares invited me to watch a 13-minute video that explained the history of the New Blacks, from their arrival in Rio de Janeiro until the establishment of an institute in their name.

      Then I walked into the main display room, where I encountered a hole in the ground with bonesthe bones of the Africans who had died shortly after arriving in Brazil. Wall displays explained the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Rio de Janeiro.

      The Pretos Novos were the captured Africans who had recently arrived in Brazil and who were soon to be exhibited for sale in the Valongo, one sign said.

      Overtime, the cemetery became a dumping ground for bodies and trash that was periodically incinerated to make way for more trash and bodies.

      A cemetery is where we ritually inter our dead, Baroudi said. A trash dump is where you throw things that you cant use anymore. Black people and Africans had become things.

      During that first visit, I, along with two other Americans, stayed at IPN for hours.

      This space exists for the sole reason that Mercedes and her husband, Petrcio, decided that this history couldnt continue to be hidden, said Baroudi. Without them, this wouldnt exist and we wouldnt know about it.

      Most of the time, we were just silentthankful that someone would dedicate their life to preserving the memory but shocked that it even existed. Ive returned to the institute at least a dozen times in the last three years, and I always meet people who were just as shocked as I was. I met an Afro-Brazilian woman who was studying for her Ph.D. at an American university. She cried, distraught that she hadnt learned anything about the Atlantic Slave Trade while in school. Another tour guide, an Afro-Brazilian woman, had just started to bring tourists to IPN three years earlier, right before the Olympic Games.

      Despite the increased spotlight on Rio de Janeiros African heritage, the Institute of Pretos Novos almost closed in 2017. The Rio city government had financed the minimal administrative costs of IPN since 2011 but a new government cut Guimares funding.

      I cant charge people to visit a cemetery, Guimares said.

      Supporters of the institute, Brazilians, and foreigners, banded together behind a campaign named IPNResiste! (IPN Resists)to raise money to keep the institute open.

      This crisis happened as the institute was undertaking its largest archaeological project ever. Researchers uncovered its first full-skeleton from the Cemetery of the New Blacksa young woman between the ages of 20 and 25 years who they named after the black Catholic saint, Bakhita. Visitors can see the skeleton today.

      On my last visit to IPN, I met an Afro-Brazilian woman who had been visiting the institute and Guimares house since 1996 and supported IPN during last years financial crisis.

      The first time I visited, we had no idea what everything was, Joyce Arago said. It means much more than bones. The history of our country is here. Its not easy for me to visit this. They are my family. My family came from Africa and this happened to us. I am here because someone came from Africa.

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      Barcelona off the beaten path: A city guide for the culturally adventurous

      Image: pixabay

      From the architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí to the sweeping vistas of the Catalan countryside, Barcelona is a city full of sensory delights. 

      But there’s far more to this vibrant metropolis than initially meets the eye. For locals and travellers alike, Barcelona is full of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path wonders that go far beyond the typical tourist traps. 

      Below, we’ve outlined a few bucket list items for every type of traveller who hopes to live like a local during their stay in this remarkable city.

      WHAT TO DO

      For couples: Couples who want to experience the “real” Barcelona can find a number of authentic activities that veer from the standard stroll down to la Sagrada Família. To delve into the heart of Catalan culture, a hands-on approach is key.

      Image: pixabay

      Start with the city’s world-renowned cuisine: At bcnKITCHEN, visitors can sign up for cooking classes (offered in both English and Spanish) to learn the art of local, traditional dishes like coca catalana and crema catalana.

      For couples craving a taste of the dramatic, visit Barcelona Improv Group to catch an improv show or even partake in a Sunday drop-in workshop hosted at Teatre de l’Enjòlit

      For business travellers: Those staying in Barcelona for business may find inspiration at MADE, a flexible space for artists, designers, entrepreneurs, engineers and more. This creative co-working organisation hosts Open Monday Meetups for interested parties to drop in, explore the space, and mingle with resident entrepreneurs.

      For families: Entertainment options in Barcelona go beyond correfoc, a traditional fireworks display — though these shows are highly recommended if you happen to be in town for any kind of Catalan festival. For a unique take on the city’s theatre scene, check out puppetry at Sala Fenix. The shows are primarily in Catalan and Spanish, so it’s an experience best reserved for families who speak a little of the local language.

      Barcelona’s expansive beaches are also well worth a visit. For those seeking sandy beaches sans crowds, head to Playa de Llevant, Barcelona’s easternmost beach. Other less-touristic beach options include Platja del Bogatell, Nova Icaria, and Mar Bella.

      Image: pixabay

      For anyone on a budget: Market strolling is a quintessential Barcelona activity, and there are options to satisfy every budget. Bypass Boqueria to explore some of the local hot spots, like Els Encants Vells, the largest permanent flea market in town, which is accessible via the Glòries metro stop, or Sants Market, where locals swarm Montero, a lunchtime spot that specialises in menjars casolans (“homemade meals”) to go.


      For couples: You may not know that some of the world’s top-rated vineyards are within an hour and a half drive from Barcelona, and nothing says romance quite like vino with a view. Go beyond the city limits for a day of wine tasting, vineyard touring, and soaking in the mountains, monasteries, and stunning nature that surrounds this metropolitan hotspot. Devour Barcelona offers a variety of options to choose from for day or half-day tours of Catalonia.

      Or, stick around town, throw it back to the ’90s, and rent skates from Inercia. The company’s website offers a variety of ideas for roller activities around town, as well as information about local tours and classes for all levels.

      For business travellers: Meandering through Gràcia, which has become one of Barcelona’s hippest neighbourhoods in recent years, will provide a peek into how the locals live. Along with a smattering of indie shops and architectural landmarks (such as Gaudí’s Casa Vicens and Park Gϋell), this area has a number of outdoor cafes with WiFi,  so you can take a laptop and enjoy  people watching. Onna Cafe has excellent coffee, plentiful electrical outlets, and a variety of delectable menu options.

      Image: pixabay

      For families: Skip the guided tours of Barcelona’s most heavily trodden tourist traps and opt instead for a comprehensive bike tour of this fabulous city. Steel Donkey Bike Tours offer a unique experience; no two tours are the same, and the group prides itself on discovering hidden hot spots that even locals may not know about. 

      For anyone on a budget: Get a feel for the gritty side of Barcelona with a free street art tour that will take you down the rabbit hole of some of the city’s most intriguing alternative culture. For a glimpse into comprehensive Catalan culture, it’s worth paying a visit to the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, which hosts talks, events, as well as  a wide range of ever-evolving exhibitions.


      For couples: A visit to Barcelona simply isn’t complete without a truly memorable meal. Such an experience is all but guaranteed at Etapes. Don’t be fooled by the restaurant’s small size: exquisite dishes like smoked sardines, bluefin tuna loin, and stuffed rabbit porchetta pack explosive Mediterranean flavour.

      For a more laid-back meal, take the funicular up to Cafe Mirablau to enjoy delicious bites with a spectacular view.

      For business travellers: Barcelona’s numerous art cafes are the perfect blend of boho ambiance and WiFi fuerte. Cosmo Cafe in Carrer Enric Granados is the ideal place to grab a bite and a natural juice while working from the cafe’s cozy sofas. It’s a particularly apt option for health-conscious, eco-conscious travellers. The majority of the menu’s ingredients come from local establishments within a 100 km radius. 

      Image: pixabay

      For families: Skip the long lines at the restaurants and opt to pack a Catalan-style picnic complete with Iberian ham, local cheeses, and delicious breads and pastries. Picnic locations are plentiful, including any number of the city’s beautiful parks like Park Guinardó or the Tamarita Gardens, where you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon amongst the locals walking their dogs. These parks are a quiet refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city.

      For anyone on a budget: There’s no better way to experience a city’s culinary creative side than to sample the sensory smorgasbord of street food. At the Palo Alto Market, peruse local crafts and handmade goods alongside some of the city’s famed food trucks, which serve up any number of inventive delicacies.


      For couples: A stroll down the winding streets of El Born is the perfect way to set a romantic mood before an evening out on the town. Head to El Xampanyet for the local experience and an extensive wine menu — and prepare to get close amongst the crowds. 

      For business travellers: For an authentic experience that’s a great option for groups (not to mention a chance to relax from work-related stressors), score tickets to a local football match. Barcelona’s beloved team, FC Barcelona, plays at Camp Nou stadium, the largest stadium in Europe. Tickets may be tricky to come by, but visit the FC Barcelona website or Ticketmaster a few days before a game to search for seats.

      Image: pixabay

      For families: Parents and kids alike will have a blast at Tibidabo, Spain’s oldest running amusement park. The park has been around for more than a century, and it features more than 25 rides as well as stunning panoramic views.

      For anyone on a budget: To take the evening up a notch, head to Espit Chupitos, a bar that specialises in unique shots. Each drink comes complete with a story, so be sure to inquire about the meaning behind the menu. A lively atmosphere, affordable drinks, and up-for-anything bartenders makes this place a hot spot for anyone looking for a night out on the town.


      There’s more to Barcelona than meets the eye. Whether you’re looking to explore the city’s lesser-known wonders or get a taste of true Catalan culture, there’s a TRYP by Wyndham hotel to meet your needs. Located right in the middle of Barcelona’s vibrant culture, stunning architecture, and unique dining scene, TRYP by Wyndham hotels are perfect for any type of traveller.

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