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Pecos lights

Christmas on the Pecos River in Carlsbad

Christmas on the Pecos, now celebrating its 18th season, is a unique holiday experience for young and old, as they enjoy spectacular Christmas decorations lining the banks of the Pecos River during a leisurely boat ride.

Winter in Carlsbad isn’t about snow, ice, or cold. It’s about warmth—the warmth of the holiday season and families coming together. Carlsbad, New Mexico is alive with this ultimate celebration of the season. This magical vista is created by over one hundred homeowners who spend hours decorating with care. Each house is unique. From the Christmas in the desert Southwest theme at one home to Santa’s Playland at another, Carlsbad residents show their creativity as much as their community pride. Each year, the holiday season on the Pecos wraps itself around the riverfront, illuminating backyards, boat docks, and islands with millions of lights. The Pecos River Holiday Lights shimmer with color. Wise men and angels glow on sloping lawns. Giant margarita glasses and bright stars reflect on the water.

Everyone in Carlsbad gets involved too, not just homeowners. Carlsbad Navy officers navigate pontoon boats through this spectacular show along the Pecos River Christmas Cruise. Each officer is a volunteer and Chamber of Commerce member who has been specially trained in boating safety and operations.

The first “Christmas on the Pecos River” boat tour took place in 1992, aboard the “Princess,” a pontoon boat that seated ten people. The “Bella Notte“ carries eighteen passengers and the “Noelle,” which was introduced in 2008, carries forty-two passengers. The “Bella Sera,” a pontoon boat which seats fifty passengers, entered the Pecos fleet in 2006. The “George Washington,“ an old-fashioned paddle wheeler (which does half-trips only on Fridays and Saturdays) carries forty passengers.

Christmas on the Pecos River is a fifty-minute tour that sets sail twelve to fifteen times per night between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. from Thanksgiving night to New Year’s Eve. Tours depart from the Pecos River Village, a quaint, turn-of-the-century park that is transformed into a wonderland of sparkling lights and delights. Wander through a gallery full of gifts created by local artists and enjoy holiday refreshments at the Pecos River Village before and after your tour.

Traditionally tours sell out quickly—especially on Thanksgiving weekend, Fridays and Saturdays in December, and Christmas Day. (Tours are not offered on Christmas Eve.) Christmas on the Pecos continues to grow each year, with attendance topping over sixteen thousand passengers in 2008.

Tickets are sold in advance and at the ticket office on days of departure. Space is limited and reservations are strongly suggested, especially on the weekends and as we get closer to Christmas. Complimentary “lap” passes are given for passengers under the age of two. Special catering is available for groups. Be sure to wear warm clothing (layers are best). Blankets are provided by Washington Tru Solutions and are available prior to boarding at the docks.

Ticket prices for the 2009 season are as follows:

Adults: $17.50 per person Fridays and Saturdays; $12.50 per person Sunday through Thursday each week;

Children (ages two through twelve): $12.50 per person Fridays and Saturdays; $7.50 per person Sunday through Thursday each week; and

Children under the age of two are admitted for no charge if they do not occupy a seat. (A lap pass must be obtained prior to boarding at the ticket office).

Christmas on the Pecos River has been awarded one of the top one hundred “must see” events in North America by the American Bus Association fourteen years in a row since 1996.

Confessions of an off-road outlaw

—Garrett VeneKlasen, Writers on the Range

By God, it was my right. No one could tell me I couldn’t chop new roads through national forest land with my off-road vehicle and my chainsaw.

I paid my taxes. This land belonged to me. If a few trees had to be cut and some makeshift roads had to be opened, well, too bad. It was worth it if I got to have a little more fun. My buddies in New Mexico and millions more around the country probably felt the same way.

Then I began to notice something about the Carson National Forest near Taos, N.M. The elk were leaving, migrating somewhere else, and the quality of the hunts I’d enjoyed began to decline. And I noticed something else: The elk were moving to areas where they didn’t have to face harassment from rogue off-road vehicle-users like me.

I remained quiet about this for years, but when a group of thoughtless riders ruined my own hunting experience, I had no choice but to think hard about what I’d been doing. It was time for me to change my habits and to speak out openly on behalf of reasonable and responsible off-road use.

For an entire morning, I’d tracked a herd of elk in an area that hadn’t faced significant pressure from aggressive ORV riding. It was the peak of the rut, and the bugling of bull elk echoed during a perfectly planned hunt. I knew that the long effort of following this herd was going to pay off.

But then, three all-terrain vehicle riders shattered the stillness, roaring into the area on an illegal trail and blasting shotguns at a flock of grouse. The elk fled – and my hunt was over.

When I confronted the riders, they had no clue that their raucous invasion had destroyed my outdoor experience. They didn’t even think about the impacts their riding had on those who enjoy quiet recreation –– hiking, camping, hunting and horseback riding in our national forests.

After the three ATVers ruined my hunt, I knew I had to change my ways. I love ATV riding, but the truth is that my ATV and the millions like it have made severe and cumulative impacts on our public lands and wildlife. The impacts of off-road vehicles are probably even more profound and far-reaching than we think they are. It’s sad but true that future generations -- including my 3-year-old daughter’s -- will find our public lands roaded and devalued beyond repair if this problem is not addressed.

When I told my fellow ORV riders of my change of heart, most replied that I was “nuts.” They said that even if I decided to alter my behavior, most other ATV riders would not.

Luckily, that has not been the case. My transformation into an advocate for responsible off-road vehicle riding has led other riders I know to rethink how they behave in the national forest. And as more of us set examples of prudent off-road use, we can become a powerful force to protect our key national forest lands.

It couldn’t happen at a better time. The Carson National Forest, which sits right in my backyard, is at a critical juncture. Its land managers, along with other forest managers across the country, are drafting long-term plans that will change how off-road vehicles are dealt with for decades to come.

Now is the time to urge our land managers and lawmakers to set aside large segments of America’s national forests, preserving them for clean water, wildlife habitat and the vast majority of us who visit the backcountry seeking peace and quiet. This means accepting fair and reasonable restrictions on ORV use. After all, everyone has a right to enjoy our forests, but no one has the right to abuse them.

If we don’t change our ways, then the warning of Wallace Stegner, the esteemed author and conservationist, may well come to pass: “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed ... so that never again can we have the chance to see ourselves single, separate, vertical and individual in the world, part of the environment of trees and rocks and soil, part of the natural world and competent to belong in it.”                                                                                             

Garrett VeneKlasen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He was born, raised and currently lives in northern New Mexico.






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