Spring sports in full swing out west
Traveling through the southwestern states last week gave me a chance to monitor the advent of the spring sports season in other parts of the country.
While we still remained locked in the final icy throes of winter in Minnesota, our fellow sports enthusiasts out west have already begun playing their spring games. Just a few hours drive into South Dakota and they were playing golf last week amid 60-degree weather along the banks of the Missouri River.
The spring-like conditions were even more evident as I veered off to the southwest and into the state of Colorado. Fields were dry and the crack of the baseball bat could be heard while motoring through the town of Limon.
They’re still skiing at the resorts in the Colorado Rockies, but out on the eastern plains the youngsters are hitting the ball around the diamond. I nearly stopped and got out my scorebook, just to stay in practice for when the outdoor fun finally starts around these parts.
Reaching the gates of Great Sand Dunes National Park gave me a chance to pursue another athletic endeavor in the warm, dry air of the San Juan Basin.
For years, I’ve hiked around in the spectacular parks of the west. But not until this most recent sojourn did I dare venture to the top of the enormous dunes tucked away in a remote corner of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains.
It’s not easy climbing uphill in the sand to a height of 700 feet, especially for an aging flatlander who makes a living sitting on the sidelines. Despite the trouble of ascending to such heights, my old buddy Willy Ferreira spurred me along, and we were rewarded with an incredible view from the pinnacle of the Great Dunes.
Nowhere else in North America are there sand dunes of such magnitude. This area was first explored by the Spanish conquistadors nearly 500 years ago when they came north from Mexico in search of the fabled "Seven Cities of Cibola" or more commonly referred to as the "Lost Cities of Gold."
Although the explorers never found the golden treasure, they did discover a truly unique geological oddity in the dunes. As a history major in college, I always appreciate tall tales from the past, but doubt Francisco De Coronado and his conquistadors ever experienced the view witnessed by a pair of intrepid hikers from the hinterlands.
After pondering for a few days on the trails surrounding the dunes and marveling at the handiwork of Mother Nature throughout the millennia, it was time to wander over Wolf Creek Pass.
Don’t Drink the Water
Usually, when my travels lead to the southern expanse of Colorado, there is a brief pause in the town of Alamosa to cross the Rio Grande River. Except for this time as the residents of Alamosa were suffering from the effects of salmonella in their drinking water. This trouble made the national news and that was enough cause to move on over the mountain pass.
Ski enthusiasts were crowded on to the slopes near the 10,000-foot pass, but my sights were set further west toward the ruins of the Anasazi at Mesa Verde National Park. The Anasazi or "Ancient Ones" occupied the canyons in Mesa Verde a thousand years ago and they left a series of magnificent ruins in their wake.
Walking down the trails used by these resourceful people in the distant past gave me a sense of perspective and a renewed appreciation for the natural beauty of their homeland. Watching the sun set over what was is now known as the "Montezuma Valley" was a fitting end to a day’s hike in the high country.
Long road home
Archaeologists have proven that the Anasazi were part of a vast trading network which stretched all the way to Mexico and so, I couldn’t help but wonder if they once played the ball game so prevalent in Central America amid the peaks of the Rockies.
Since the schedule of sporting events is never far from my mind, it seemed like the right time to traverse a few more mountain passes and head for home. On the way north, we crossed a breach in the mountains known as "Lizard Head Pass." This gave me one more chance to peer through my binoculars and imagine being a scout for a bygone expedition.
Even along the winding corridor of Interstate 70 through the stretch of Glenwood Canyon, the folks of Colorado are still conscious of the positive effects gained from participating in sports. Underneath and to the sides of the bridges which convey the freeway through the canyon, there are hiking and biking trails for those who wish to see the beauty of the place at a slower pace.
In the end, the road took me through a snowstorm in Iowa and back to the looming spring schedules laying on my desk at the Austin office. So far, the weather hasn’t been as balmy at home as during my trip west, but soon they’ll be playing games at Seltz Field and the North Todd Park complex.
Another sure sign of the impending outdoor season was the appearance of a few Austin Greyhounds over the weekend. The guys from the amateur baseball team held a fundraiser last Saturday at Echo Lanes and according to player/manager John Frein, "a lot of people turned out to support the team."
On a far off field about 800 miles to the west, I’ve already heard the crack of the bat and that makes me anxious to get things going for the local teams. The month of April has arrived and it’s time to play ball in the great outdoors.