Instead, the Salisbury resident said she and others on her tour bus witnessed an ugly spectacle that made her embarrassed, angry and heartbroken for her country.
Vaillancourt was one of thousands of people who found themselves in a national park as the federal government shutdown went into effect on Oct. 1. For many hours her tour group, which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States, were locked in a Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard.
The tourists were treated harshly by armed park employees, she said, so much so that some of the foreign tourists with limited English skills thought they were under arrest.
When finally allowed to leave, the bus was not allowed to halt at all along the 2.5-hour trip out of the park, not even to stop at private bathrooms that were open along the route.
“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” said Vaillancourt, who grew up in Lawrence. “It was like they brought out the armed forces. Nobody was saying, ‘we’re sorry,’ it was all like — ” as she clenched her fist and banged it against her forearm.
The bus stopped along a road when a large herd of bison passed nearby, and seniors filed out to take photos. Almost immediately, an armed ranger came by and ordered them to get back in, saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The tour guide, who had paid a $300 fee the day before to bring the group into the park, argued that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos.
“She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.
The seniors quickly filed back onboard and the bus went to the Old Faithful Inn, the park’s premier lodge located adjacent to the park’s most famous site, Old Faithful geyser. That was as close as they could get to the famous site — barricades were erected around Old Faithful, and the seniors were locked inside the hotel, where armed rangers stayed at the door.
“They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed. They told us you can’t go outside,” she said. “Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”
The bus trip made headlines in Livingston, where the local newspaper Livingston Enterprise interviewed the tour guide, Gordon Hodgson, who accused the park service of “Gestapo tactics.”
Abusing oldsters, veterans and foreign tourists. Heck of a job, Barry.