For five years, Charlie Percell has seen a steady rise in business at her "Cadillac Ranch" RV park in Bluff. People come for the scenery, for the small-town hospitality and because Bluff - with Colorado 40 miles to the east and Arizona 25 miles to the south - is on the way to everywhere.
But business came to a screeching halt in June.The manhunt for two alleged cop-killers believed to be hiding along the banks of the San Juan River, which winds through town, has kept tourists and travelers away.
"That first week, nobody came," said Percell, a 20-year Bluff resident. "I might as well have closed the doors and gone on vacation."
The story is the same for owners of Bluff's 27 other businesses.
When police shut down the town for two days beginning June 4 and then stationed armed police officers at road blocks on every possible route into town, the telephones started ringing with cancellations.
"They said, we're sorry, but we're afraid; we have families and we'll come back when it's safe," Percell said.
About 250,000 people annually visit Bluff. And from April to November, businesses here live and die on tourism.
At the moment, Percell is booking only about one quarter of her normal business. At Margaret LaBounty's art gallery, the loss is at $5,000 and counting. Twin Rocks Trading Post owner Steve Simpson said traffic was off by about 50 percent.
And river tour operator Charlie DeLorme lost about 10 percent of his business - or $33,000 - in the first week of the five-week manhunt.
"It's devastating," said DeLorme, owner of Wild Rivers Expeditions. "It hit at absolutely peak season - peak high water and peak tourism."
Bouncing back from those losses will be tough, business owners say.
So far, the only help they've seen is a $500 grant from the San Juan County office of economic development.
Those who carry loss protection for the businesses through insurance companies have been told the manhunt and an evacuation don't qualify as a loss by insurance policy definitions, LaBounty said.
And a state audit being conducted on manhunt expenditures - which included loss statements from businesses - is not yet complete. State officials are uncertain if there will be money available to compensate for losses.
"There might be some money, I don't know," said Jim Brown from the office of Comprehensive Emergency Management. "I haven't seen the bills and a meeting hasn't even been set. But we'll meet with the governor's office and the department of public safety and see."
DeLorme is not optimistic.
"It would be nice if the state could offer us some no-interest loans. But I'm not going to get my hopes up," he said. "I've lost maybe 10 percent of my business, and I only operate on about a 5 percent profit margin. I do this for love, not for the high profits."
The state may have inadvertently already softened the blow for the region, hosting a group of Italian travel writers on a tour of the area 10 days ago.
As always, the Utah Travel Council hopes the scenery and unique features of the area, like Anasazi ruins, will attract positive reports; and while the trip was scheduled far in advance of the manhunt, council spokesman Ken Kraus said he felt the trip was timely assistance.
On the other hand, Kraus said tourism numbers across the state are not what many expected for the season, and the Bluff area may be suffering from more than just the backlash from the manhunt news.
"There are a number of factors which we in tourism count as factors. Faltering national economies in places like Germany and Japan, weather, changes in tourism trends - all have something to do with the numbers," he said. "The West still appears to have a strong lure, but it seems destinations that are closer to home and less expensive seem to be appealing right now as opposed to travel off the beaten path."
Kraus believes the "fugitive episode" shouldn't have a long-term effect on southeastern Utah.
"I'm not worried that San Juan County will suffer an irreversible drop in visitation," he said. "The factors that draw tourists are services, food, lodging and amenities."
But it can't hurt to bolster a community's image in the wake of a bad situation, advises Jean Sullivan of the Miami tourism office in Florida.
After several German tourists were shot and killed in Miami during 1993, that city organized quickly to let the world know Florida was still a safe place to visit.
"We organized a series of safety net programs, and the let people know what we were doing and that we were concerned about their safety, " Sullivan said.
The result was actually a 64 percent drop in robberies against tourists, she said. In less than two years, Miami was enjoying record tourism numbers, Sullivan said.
And while comparing the manhunt with the Florida shootings is like comparing apples to oranges, the principle is the same.
"The most important thing is to show concern and evidence that you are trying to address the problem," she said.
That's exactly what Bluff business are trying to do.
"You certainly can't fault them for being afraid, but I try to let them know that for the most part we are safe and secure," said Twin Rocks Trading Post owner Steve Simpson. "The truth is, it's probably more dangerous for you to go down to the market in Salt Lake City than it is to go hiking in Bluff."
DeLorme worries, however, that as long as the fugitives remain on the loose, Bluff business will continue to take a hit in their profit margins.
"When we had the hantavirus scare back in the early '90s, took about two years before the people came back," he said. "Until they (the fugitives) are apprehended, I think this will linger. I just hope that when they are caught, the notoriety of the area will make people curious."