All aboard for the Escalante Christmas Light Parade

The magical light parade delights onlookers as it makes its way through the tiny town of Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Joette-Marie Rex, St. George News

ESCALANTE — Move over Polar Express, here comes the Escalante Christmas Light Parade.

Magic makers Lenza Wilson and Zak Wilson pose for the camera Chrismas Eve before taking the light parade out for the night, Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jessica Ball, St. George News
Magic-makers Lenza Wilson and Zak Wilson pose for the camera Chrismas Eve before taking the light parade out for the night, Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jessica Ball, St. George News

Hatched from the mind of former Escalante mayor Lenza Wilson in 1994, the 21-year-old labor of love has become a family tradition that all of the community awaits with youthful giddiness and anticipation each year.

It was just a fun thing to do, Lenza Wilson said, and now the light parade has taken on a life all its own.

With 15 trailers covered in Christmas trees, various metal sculptures and nearly 35,000 lights, he said, each float pulled by the massive Ford F250 truck evokes its own theme. 

“I love to drive down Main Street and see the reflections of this thing in the glass windows on the building when they close at night,” Lenza Wilson said, adding that it’s always fun to see the excitement and surprise on the faces of the townsfolk when he takes the light parade out for its first spin of the season.

“They can see the lot at our pasture in town where I put it all together,” he said, “so they know it’s kind of coming, but nobody knows when it’s coming.”  

It represents a piece of the heart of Escalante, resident Joette-Marie Rex said, explaining that it has become so important to the community that residents pitch in what they can every year to help Wilson make it happen.

“The first time I saw it,” she said, laughing at the memory, “I talked to his grandmother and she said she had no more lights left for her Christmas tree because Lenza had taken them all for the train.”

The magical light parade delights onlookers as it makes it's way through the tiny town of Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Joette-Marie Rex, St. George News
The magical light parade delights onlookers as it makes its way through the tiny town of Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Joette-Marie Rex, St. George News

Throughout the rest of the year residents donate to the cause here and there, Lenza Wilson said. Be it in-kind items to maintain or replace parts or cash to help fund the venture, he said, it’s always just enough to help pay for the fun.

The 200-foot light parade takes from six to eight weeks to put together, Lenza Wilson’s brother Zak Wilson said, and the whole thing is a family affair.

While Lenza Wilson, who is an electrician, has full creative control of the project every year and the vision belongs to him, Zak Wilson said, their father helps maintain the mechanics of the “train” and provides the diesel generator that supplies all of the power for the light show.

“It is powered by a very large, 30,000-watt-, or 30 kilowatt-, generator that peaks at 50,000 and it runs on diesel fuel,” he said. “So, it puts out the same amount of power as your house does if you turn absolutely everything on.”  

The magical light parade delights onlookers as it makes it's way through the tiny town of Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jessica Ball, St. George News
The magical light parade delights onlookers as it makes its way through the tiny town of Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jessica Ball, St. George News

At the end of the season the whole thing gets broken down to be stored, Lenza Wilson said, and that’s where his mother and brother really step up to help. More than half of the tear-down process is done by his mother, he said, who organizes everything so it can be easily identified the following fall when rebuilding begins.

“I help where I can,” Zak Wilson said. “I help procure duct tape, I get more strings of lights and when it’s not Christmas time I store all of the lights, I store all of the trees …; basically, I am the caretaker of most of it during the year when it’s not being used.”

Since the family began their parade of lights 21 years ago, Lenza Wilson said, they have taken four years off intermittently to recoup and relax so they don’t get burned out. However, the tradition has become so special to himself and the community, he said, he can’t imagine there will be a time in his life when he stops building the light parade altogether.

Every year he has tried to add a new element of fun to the train, Lenza Wilson said, whether it’s a new trailer or brighter LED lights — the light parade continues to grow year after year.

The Wilson boys and their mother take the light parade out for a spin Christmas Eve, Left to right: Zak Wilson, Susan Shurtz, Lenza Wilson, Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jessica Ball, St. George News
The Wilson boys and their mother take the light parade out for a spin Christmas Eve, Left to right: Zak Wilson, Susan Shurtz, Lenza Wilson, Escalante, Utah, Dec. 24, 2015 | Photo courtesy of Jessica Ball, St. George News

“I think I could still probably add three or four more trailers before the weight gets a little too much,” he said. “Part of it is that for every trailer you add, that’s another two or three days of setup to get ready, but I would like to see it get up to maybe, ohhh, 17 or 18 trailers.”

Weather permitting, there will be one final opportunity to watch the Escalante Christmas Light Parade make its way through town: New Year’s Eve, Lenza Wilson said, as the sun recedes over the horizon on the Escalante mountain range.

Those interested in watching the spectacle only need make their way to Main Street in Escalante and wait patiently on the side of the road until the sun has left the sky — then look for Lanza Wilson and his family as they zigzag their way through the town and the hearts of many in their brightly lit gift to the community.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Email: cmiller@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Shaylee December 26, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I grew up waiting for this to drive by every year. I’m so glad they are still doing it! One day I’ll make it back and show my boys!

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