Santa Claus made a surprise appearance in Cortez Saturday, dipping down from the North Pole not in a reindeer-powered sleigh, but in a helicopter stirring flurries of dust.
The grand entrance was met with cheers from onlookers, and kick-started this year’s Four Corners Board of Realtors Parade of Lights, which saw twice as many floats as last year.
The Classic AM helicopter acting as Santa’s sleigh delivered the embodiment of Christmas himself to the corner of Maple and Main streets downtown.
Immediately after Santa’s early visit to the corner of Southwest Colorado, 65 floats began gliding through downtown at 6 p.m, dousing the hundreds of spectators lining Main Street in rays of shimmering holiday light and sound.
Amid unseasonably warm weather, floats, cars, bicycles, dancers, carolers, dogs and horses lined up on South Maple Street and traveled along the north side of Main Street to North Park Street.
Eric Trefethen organized one float with his son and his son’s friends, all aged eight to 11.
“It’s a good family outing,” Trefethen said.
The children aboard his float could hardly contain their enthusiasm, but paused for long enough to tell The Journal what they were most excited about seeing in the parade minutes before its start.
“Yelling at people,” declared Rian Mead.
His sister, Airyella — a combination of Ariel and Cinderella, she said — was looking forward to “getting to see the lights because I’ve never been in a Christmas parade.”
“Family,” said Tanner Gipson, leaving it as simple as that.
Battle Rock Charter School teachers Teagan Lewis and Lily Jamison-Cash, one wearing a dinosaur costume and the other dressed as the Grinch, were supervising excited children of their own.
“We put a lot of time into this,” Jamison-Cash said. “These kids have been really excited for a long time.”
The parade marked a crowning moment for the Montezuma-Cortez High School band, who could be heard proudly rehearsing ahead of the procession after not being able to play in the event last year.
“It’s been two years, these kids are jacked,” said band director Alexander Mohr.
He said many students hadn’t had the chance to perform in such an event since middle school.
“We’re so excited to have our obnoxious lights and play our slightly less obnoxious music,” he said.
Wendy Williams — along with sister Becky Short’s help — outfitted her St. Bernard dogs in bells, lights and antlers for the occasion.
The fluffy dogs were exhibiting excitement of their own, restless and at the ready.
“They’re a little wiggly, they’re very excited,” Williams said.
The dogs – Maggie, Walter and Iolanta – were easy to train, Williams said, and live a rural lifestyle.
“It’s new for them to come to town,” she said.
For Katrina Weiss and company, it was the first time acting as more than a spectator in the parade.
Weiss opened Katrina Weiss State Farm in January in Cortez, and the parade stirred feelings of gratitude, prompting her to to reflect back on the almost-year she’s been in business.
“It’s a very impressive parade for this size of town,” she said.
In line with this year’s theme, the judges of the floats were members of nonprofits. A first-, second- and third-place cash prize, sponsored by Four Corners Board of Realtors members and affiliates, will be awarded to floats in each of the three parade categories – commercial, nonprofit and other, which includes individuals, school and clubs.
Judges, stationed at the north corner of Market and Main streets, evaluated participants for music and lights, creativity, theme development and workmanship.
In the commercial category, first place went to Country Side Disposal. Second place went to Wood Designs Landscaping, and third place to Aaron’s.
In the nonprofit category, first place went to Cortez Future Farmers of America. Second place went to Charinda Jones, and third to Kiva Montessori School.
In the other category, first place went to the Montelores Baptist Church. Second place went to Renew Inc., and third to Kiwanis Club of Mesa Verde.
Although Battle Rock Charter School did not have a number in the parade lineup, the judges awarded the school’s float an honorable mention.
Judging this year’s floats were Margo Lee from Court Appointed Special Advocates, Jerry Sam, a school resource officer and police officer, Rose Kerogen from Four Corners Child Advocacy, Heidi Mitchell from Habitat for Humanity and Rebecca Samulski from Onward! A Legacy Foundation.
Last year’s top three in each category were Holaday Trucking/Harris Dirt Works/Harris Transportation, Aaron’s Sales and Lease, and Colorado Title and Closing Services in the commercial category; the Dolores Playground Group, Celebrate Recovery Rock Springs Church, and Girl Scouts Service Unit 206 in the nonprofit group; and the Montezuma County Patriots, Four Corners Dancers, and Koskies in the other category.
Mesa Media Productions streamed the event live.