Friday, June 4, 2010

Literature as Economic Development

Last Friday I had lunch with Art Hutchinson, Superintendant of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Superintendant Hutchinson shared lots of information about the myths and lore surrounding this mysterious part of San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado. He answered the parent of one of my students at Regis who once bemoaned his daughter wanting to major in English Literature. "That won't help her earn any money anywhere," he puffed and snorted like one of the web footed horses roaming across the sands of the dunes.

He asked why so many Germans want to visit the San Dunes? Only Professor Tom Noel knew the answer: the historical novels of Karl May, a prolific German late 19th and early 20th century writer, who glorified life in the American west. He shared with us that Germans can now come to Denver on Lufthansa and many buy their parks passes at Great Sand Dunes for access to all the US parks. Karl May writing about our west did almost as much as Buffalo Bill Cody did for making Europeans interested in our west though his wild west show.

Art shared some of the legends about the Sand Dunes: that wild horses can be seen galloping across the dunes with webs on their hooves; that the Spanish hid lots of gold there in the dunes; and at night one can hear wailing and singing coming from the sands. He reminded us that the tallest dune, the tallest in the U.S. is taller than any of our downtown sky scrapers, 750 feet...coincidently and appropriately called the "High Dune."

And the dunes boast their own unique beetle, the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, the Cincendela Theatina. That's Latin for the Theatine Beatle. Fr. Bernardo Rotger, the Theatine pastor from San Luis found the beetle and asked that it be named for his religious order, the Theatine Order. The excellent Visitor' Guide lets visitors know that they can splash in the ocean-like waves of Medano Creek, when it has water. The waves are called a 'surge flow.' Lucky visitors may see the elk herds on the many acres of grasslands, yellow-bodied red-faced Western Tanager, a little colorful bird found in forest land, short-horned lizards, and of course, our Colorado state fish, the green back cut throa trout.

So I know one place in Colorado I want to visit this summer: The Great Sand Dunes.

And the next time someone says literature has no relation to economic development, remind them of the story of Karl May whose writings, long in the past, encourage so many Germans to visit Colorado and the west.

Danke, Karl.

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