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Parks light up for the holidays

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By Special to the Monitor

Holiday traditions sparkle at New Mexico State Parks as luminarias light up walkways, beaches and riverfronts in parks from Raton to Deming.

Hot cocoa, caroling, holiday bells and luminaria await visitors seeking a festive return to old-fashioned customs or modern-day star gazing.

“State parks are part of so many communities and our holiday events add more celebration and joy at this special time of year,” State Park Director Dave Simon said.

Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Carlsbad kicks off the season from 2-3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5 with Holiday Bells in the Visitor Center, featuring holiday music and hand bells. Living Desert also celebrates Holidays with the Animals from 1-3 p.m. Dec. 12, when children make holiday cards and treats for their favorite Living Desert animals. The event is free but regular admission fees apply to enter the zoo, or each visitor may donate a new book, toy, or nonperishable food item to be distributed to local charities. Call 575-887-5516 for details.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park’s annual Weekend of Lights is set for 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Dec. 12 to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation of New Mexico. A beachfront luminaria walk, fireworks and a floating lights parade with dozens of illuminated boats give a fresh sparkle to holiday lights, while Deanna Sauceda of Albuquerque’s KRQE-TV News 13 serves as grand marshal for the parade. For more information contact the Elephant Butte Chamber of Commerce at 575-744-4708 or Marina Del Sur at 575-744-5567.

Also on Dec. 12, Rockhound State Park near Deming hosts its Holiday Lights festivities from 6-8 p.m. with more than 1,000 luminarias lighting the visitor center and native gardens. Coffee, hot cocoa, cider, Mexican cookies, caroling and conversation are part of the enchantment. Call the park at 575-546-6182 for more information.

Three parks offer astronomy events during the third week in December. Clayton Lake State Park will host a Star Party at its observatory from 8 p.m. - midnight on Tuesday, Dec. 15; for more information, call 575-374-8808. Cerrillos Hills State Park south of Santa Fe offers cold, bright stars and hot chocolate from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16 during its Sidewalk Astronomy program. Coffee, cocoa and cookies will help visitors warm up while star gazing through a telescope. For more information, call 505-474-0196.  

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogordo hosts Jupiter, Mercury and Moon at Sunset from 5:30-7 p.m. Dec. 19 with the Amateur Astronomers Group of the New Mexico Museum of Space History. See Jupiter, Mercury and the crescent moon as they approach a conjunction in the evening sky and view the winter constellations Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Perseus. Dress warmly, come early and enjoy a beautiful Dog Canyon sunset. For more information, call 575-437-8284.

The fourth annual Las Luces de Villanueva light up Villanueva State Park south of Las Vegas from 5-7 p.m. on Dec. 19. Stroll among the luminarias and decorations throughout this lovely riverside park situated in a winding, rocky canyon and enjoy refreshments along the way. The event is sponsored by the staff and community of Villanueva, with a possible visit from Santa Claus himself. For more information, call 575-421-2957.

Holiday on the Chicorica is a favorite annual holiday tradition at Sugarite Canyon State Park east of Raton, scheduled from 5-8:30 p.m. on Dec. 19. Enjoy the angelic glow of 1,000 luminarias lighting the visitor center and native gardens and 2,000 farolitos gracing the River Walk Trail that follows Chicorica Creek. Take a peek at the night sky through the park telescope, visit with Santa, sip hot chocolate, and listen to holiday tunes. More information is available at 575-445-5607.

Summary:

Dec. 5:  Living Desert Holiday Bells (Living Desert)

Dec. 12: Weekend of Lights (Elephant Butte); Holiday Lights Festivities (Rockhound); Holidays with the Animals (Living Desert)

Dec. 15: Star Party (Clayton Lake)

Dec. 16: Sidewalk Astronomy (Cerrillos Hills)

Dec. 19: Las Luces de Villanueva (Villanueva); Holiday on the Chicorica (Sugarite Canyon); Celestial Cycles: Winter Solstice (Oliver Lee)

For more information on these and other State Park events, call 1-888-NMPARKS or visitwww.nm

parks.com online.