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Elephant Butte and TorC get ready to treat visitors to a special brand of Christmas magic

For the Journal

The popularity of Elephant Butte Lake State Park during the summer is no secret.

But Christmastime can be magical in the sandy beaches and still waters of the lake.

The annual Luminaria Beachwalk on Saturday is a delightful tribute to New Mexico’s traditional holiday décor.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” said Manny Sanchez, a law enforcement ranger with the State Parks Division and the volunteer coordinator for the event.

About 3,000 brown lunch bags weighted with sand and lit by votive candles line the highway, the entryway and paths through the park, he said.

“It’s beautiful to drive through or walk through and see,” Sanchez said. “Each campsite has a campfire, and it is just beautiful to see that many luminarias all along the road. We even put them outside along Highway 195. And there’s trail for you to come down into where we host the campsites in the big areas.”

The more than 20 campsite areas have bonfires and decorated vehicles, while goodies such as posole and soups are ladled out for anyone passing by, said Rick Harrison, president of the Friends of Elephant Butte Lake State Park, which sponsors the event.

It’s all free other than the $5 park admission, although donation boxes are set up to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Music, caroling and plenty of holiday spirit abounds.

“One of the popular things are the five-ton trucks, old army trucks that will be there and are all lit up,” Harrison said. “It’s very festive. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are there. Every campsite has some type of refreshment chile or posole. One campsite does sweets only. Every one is different.”

Not surprisingly, folding, filling and lighting so many luminarias is a laborious process, so Sanchez enlists as much help as possible.

“Most of my staff, 20 to 25 people, we fold the bags on Thursday, which takes all of us,” he said. “Then we get a school group to come and help fill the bags that afternoon. Then all the volunteers come in the morning and put them out, and we usually get another school group like the FAA or the football team to come help out. It’s quite a process, because you have to set every candle up and light each one.”

A highlight of the evening is when a flotilla of boats hits the lake for the Lago Rico Floating Lights Parade, which is entering its 25th season.

“There are usually about 12 to 15 boats that people spend days and days decorating,” said Will Dooley, president of the Elephant Butte Chamber of Commerce. “We go out and take a couple of tours around the beach area so people can see. We usually have prizes for best theme and most lights. It’s a big community event.”

Starting about 5 p.m., the captains and crews host a tamale dinner at the marina that the public can attend, with 300 to 500 people usually taking part. The boats launch about 6:30 p.m.

“The parade takes about an hour to an hour and a half,” Dooley said. “Then we open the marina after the parade and people can see the boats up close. It is one of New Mexico’s favorite Christmas things. The things we do with the luminaria walk and the parade on the lake, it’s not really available anywhere else.”

The festivities start the Friday night before with Truth or Consequence’s Old-Fashioned Christmas.

The Christmas tree lighting starts at 6 p.m. at Evelyn Renfro Park, followed by the vehicle light parade at Main Street and Broadway, followed by pictures with Santa at the Visitor Center, with caroling and refreshments throughout Downtown.

“We have line dancers, bonfires and hot chocolate,” DeMarino said. “It is an amazing weekend to come to Sierra County.”