Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hidalgo Festival of Lights

Location: Rio Grande Valley, TX

With most of the country shoveling and shivering, I know I shouldn't complain about temps in the 30s and 40s. But this is southern Texas! It snows here every century or so -- the last time was, oddly, the night of December 24th, 2004, and that was the first time in 109 years. But imagine how special it must have been to see snow for the first time in your life when you awoke on Christmas morning!

We did not see snow here last night, but they did in Houston, about 350 miles away. We had a freeze warning, an odd occurrence on its own, but the temperature didn't quite make it to 32 -- our low was 36, so we didn't even have to deal with frozen water hoses.

But earlier last night the temps were in the high 40s with a cold wind blowing, and it was definitely nippy outside - but we dressed in our warmest clothes, reminded ourselves that we are from cold climates and can handle it, and took a trip to Hidalgo -- a border city famous for:

  • a 1910 steam-powered irrigation pump that once pumped 400,000 gallons of the Rio Grande per minute to irrigate sugar cane, cotton, citrus and vegetable fields
  • being the first place in the U.S. to have Africanized honeybees (aka "Killer Bees") (1990)
  • and, our goal, one of the grandest displays of holiday lights in Texas, the Hidalgo Festival of Lights.

Click for Larger Image of Space ShuttleWhile a lot of private citizens and organizations join the fun, the City of Hidalgo, with a population slightly under 8,000, puts up over a million lights in city-owned property all over town, both rope lights shaped into figures and white lights wrapped around tree trunks and branches. Rather than buying them, the city employees fabricate most of the lighted figures, from the traditional Santas, snowmen, and candy canes to custom shapes such as steamboats, the space shuttle, dinosaurs, butterflies, the twelve days of Christmas, and even a Texas oil well. Most everything that can be draped with lights is -- even the 10 foot high statue of the Killer Bee.

Click for Larger Image of CarriageWe saw a lot of cars slowly snaking through the city (seeing the lights is free), but we opted for one of the guided tours that leave from city hall -- in a trolley, on a hayride, or our choice, the horse drawn wagon. Our two large white Percheron horses, Jack and Jill, pulled us through street after street and finally returned us to City Hall where the Chinese had provided a pair of large colorful dragons (made from small medicine bottles) and some of the 2008 Olympic mascots. We bought an excellent dinner from a street vendor -- two homemade tamales, rice, beans, and a cup of Mexican hot chocolate (made from scratch with added cinnamon and spices) all for only $5.

Great way to get into the holiday spirit!

Click for Larger Image of the 12 Days of Christmas Click for Larger Image of Steamboat Click for Larger Image of Chinese Dragons Click for Larger Image of Candy Workshop


The Blond One said...

We missed you at the Columbia Festival of Lights walk. No one would sing carols with me!
Next year, bundle up and come north and freeze with us on the walk! :)

Richard said...

So where is the photo of the 10 foot killer bee? Here I thought I had trained you to be a budding entomologist

O. B. Sirius said...

Richard -- Alas! As it turns out, at night a ten foot killer bee draped in holiday lights is pretty much indistinguishable from a ten foot blob draped in holiday lights. I'm planning to go back during the day for a better photo opp with The Bee. Stay tuned.

ART and NANCY (RVLifestyle) said...

Nancy and I enjoyed visiting with you and John and sharing the Hidalgo Festival Lights evening.