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WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 2014  08:48:44 PM

‘Nature in Lights’ draws visitors young, old from near, far

Email   Print   Share By Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
December 17, 2009 | Leisure
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Thousands of points of light draw the eye to an American flag surrounded by stars above a “God Bless The USA” banner, one of dozens of electric displays of Christmas and the American spirit. Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
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Candy canes and lollipops dance beneath colorful arches along the “Nature in Lights” trail. Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
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A south seas version of the yuletide season, Santa’s Oasis reveals an elf in a hammock strung between two palm trees, a sail boat being paddled by reindeer at the bow and stern ... and reindeer doing a hula dance. Near them, Santa catches a giant wave and hangs 10. Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
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Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
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The road exits the “Nature in Lights” exhibits through a bright, oscillating archway. Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
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A gingerbread house glistens next to a Christmas tree topped by a bright star. Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
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A dove flies out of a huge electronic sign proclaiming “PEACE.” Michael Heckman, Sentinel Staff
They’re short and tall, young and old. They come from near and far in SUVs, pickup trucks and mini-vans. What they all have in common is their attraction to the millions of points of light organized into the Christmas extravaganza “Nature in Lights” at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area.

What better way to enter a winter wonderland than through an archway of snowflakes and stars?

That’s what introduces visitors to the trail of Christmas-theme lighted displays. At the entrance, tunes including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” greet visitors.

After paying a nominal entrance fee, the merry mood turns cold. Vehicles entering the road that winds through the park are christened by a flurry of flakes provided by a snow machine.

Hurry. The lines will grow longer as Christmas approaches.

According to Bill Beaver, a security guard for BLORA, 1,776 vehicles carrying an average of two adults and three-to-four children passed through during the exhibit’s regular hours of 5:30-11 p.m. last weekend.

And the peak time has not arrived.

“Last year, we had days with more than 2,000. We’ll peak about the 17th, when all of them kids get out of school and when the guys coming back from the desert bring their families,” he added.

Beaver said BLORA’s RV station and cottages have been staying full.

“Some people have come through for their third and fourth times. The farthest (visitors) came from Oklahoma and stayed two days to see the lights and visit Santa’s Village with their kids,” he said.

At Santa’s Village, children can get pictures taken with Saint Nick and wash cookies down with hot chocolate. Seasonal crafts and other products also are offered for sale.

Unlike Cinderella, the ball isn’t over at midnight for Beaver.

As long as visitors are in line by 11 p.m., he said, they will get to tour the light exhibits and visit Santa’s Village.

Along the undulating trail that winds through the hills and along the shore of Belton Lake, young and old visitors alike are charmed by a host of angels, elves, reindeer and other sights.

Just beyond an arch of Christmas wreaths, Santa and Mrs. Claus exchange kisses. Not far away, penguins celebrate outside their igloo at the North Pole.

As we descend the trail toward lake level, elves can be seen making candy canes at a candy factory before tossing them into Santa’s bag of gifts.

Then, an archway of candy canes, lollipops and bright lights awaits visitors along the trail as it plunges down a steep hill.

As gingerbread men somersault over the road, a gingerbread house pops into view. Beyond is a big Christmas tree topped with a bright star.

As the road curves and drops into the valley below, approaching the lake the view includes an elf vaulting on a trampoline and, on a nearby rooftop, Santa and his reindeer-drawn sleigh land before he darts down the chimney to deposit presents beneath a tree.

At the far side of the valley, beyond a guitar-playing moose, an oasis sits. The star of Bethlehem shines over a manger surrounded by shepherds guarding sheep. Three wise men bearing gifts approach on camels. Mary and Joseph stand watch over the baby Jesus, lying in a manger.

Beyond the nativity scene, huge electronic snowflakes appear to drop from the trees overhead.

And, beyond yet more brightly-flashing wreaths, a restroom stop is available.

Farther along the trail, Santa hits a golf ball out of a sand trap toward hole No. 9, next to a little drummer boy. Past the drummer, an archway and angels heralding “Joy to the World” welcome guests.

Mirroring the caravan of camels, a caravan of mini-vans and pickups cruises by.

A hint of things to come, Santa and Mrs. Claus wave at visitors. Past them, jolly elves and reindeer leap over bright flowers.

Other than being on a military installation, an incongruous sound is heard: the roar of helicopter engines as the machines flitter like dragon flies through the surrounding hills.

Despite the cacophony, another elf rides a tight wire strung between candy canes.

A train of elves trundle along in a handcar behind a train with Santa as the engineer.

Then, as the road curves back to the right, a reindeer conducts a choir of other reindeer as a teddy bear dances.

Winding away from the lake, members of a moose and bear band silently suggest the magic of the jazz era.

Yet another archway proclaims the 12 Days of Christmas. It includes, of course, a partridge in a pear tree, a hen laying, two turtle doves, geese a laying, five golden rings ... maids milking and lords leaping.

At the North Pole rentals, a military Santa shoots elves out of a canon into a duffel bag. Another Santa dunks a basketball and a moose kicks a field goal despite Santa’s unsuccessfully leap to block it.

Other fun displays include a male and bikini-wearing female reindeer soaking in a hot tub.

Nature in Lights can be seen through Jan. 3.

Gate fees are $5 for cars, mini-vans and pickup trucks; $15 for 15-passenger vans, limousines and recreational vehicles; $25 for 24-passenger vans; and $40 for 47-passenger vans or larger buses.

Santa’s Village is open nightly through Dec. 24.
 
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