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Getting in the holiday spirit

River of Lights, now in its 22nd year, continues to expand and add to its already elaborate displays.

“We always like to leave the brand new sculptures as a surprise for guests as they arrive at River of Lights,” said Danielle Flores Mills, Marketing & Communications Manager, New Mexico BioPark Society. “I can say that we have a new dino on the block. He’s big and bad, so that’s very exciting, and we also have a great photo op. We’ve been saying ‘your magical ride awaits you,’ so that’s going to be in the Children’s Fantasy Garden and it’s a great photo opportunity for families to come in and take a photo with one of our sculptures.”

This year, River of Lights will be extended to the entry of the Japanese garden at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden. The event continues to grow and the River of Lights crew is constantly tweaking displays and lighting.

“The UFO from last year got a facelift,” Flores Mills said. “It was introduced last year, and they went ahead and redesigned the entire thing from scratch. It’s still abducting a cow, but it looks even cooler this year. And then we always relight sculptures. We changed from incandescent rope lighting to LED as far as energy-saving opportunities go and also it just makes the sculptures look brighter, so that’s always a good change.”

A few million lights illuminate River of Lights.

“We have the ocean scene that’s in the plaza, that’s the pirate ship, the whale, we have an octopus out there, a stingray,” Flores Mills said. “We have different scenes like the ocean scene, we have the dinosaur scene, we have the Africa scene where you can see all the animals. We have a winter scene. We have the farm scene. We have the sculptures throughout the rest of the garden. It’s kind of cool when we’re thinking about what’s going to be welded for the next year. We’re constantly looking at the scenes that we already have to see if we can add to them. That’s why some areas are growing out of the space they have originally been in and that’s why we rotate everything.”

The sculptures are all created by welder and River of Lights supervisor Joey Trujillo, who leads a team of three full-time craftsman. This year, a crew of 10 set up the sculptures and lighting. Set-up usually happens on Oct. 1, but this year it was moved up to Sept. 15 due to the growing event.

“He’s always talking about how it’s Christmas year-round for him and I think he likes it,” Flores Mills said of Trujillo. “He’s always talking about how he loves hearing the comments, whether they’re positive or negative. He’s listening while he’s walking through. I think a lot of people don’t realize the crew’s there every night to make sure the lights are on, they’re making sure there are no burnouts and they fix it. They’re just making sure everything is running smoothly… . But he’s listening to anything and everything all the guests are saying. He just enjoys it. He’s just got a great attitude.”

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