Photo By Walt Mares: Fun, fun, fun was a big part of the Clifton Parade of Lights This float certainly depicts all the fun. The parade topped off the 22nd annual Clifton Festival of Lights held Dec. 1
By Walt Mares
CLIFTON – A beautiful setting in a narrow canyon surrounded by steep, rocky hills. Very good food. Darn good music.
It was a dark, moonless sky. After sunset beautiful multi-colored lights brightened everything along historic Chase Creek.
There was no rain as some had feared. Snow clouds remained somewhere in the Petahaya and White mountains above Clifton and Morenci. It was cold, in the high 40s and low 50s, but there was no wind. Not even occasional sharp breezes blew. Not to worry. People were dressed for the weather. The music was a factor in that many people moved and shuffled around to the beat.
It was the 22nd annual Clifton Festival of Lights and everyone there appeared to be having a very good time, from small children to teenagers, the middle-aged and the elderly. There was no reason not to have a good time unless some people decided to take a Grinch-like “Humbug” attitude. If so, that that was their problem.
Considering the size of crowds that came and went throughout the afternoon and night, it is no exaggeration to estimate festival goers at about 3,000. It was the largest crowd to ever attend the festival. There were also a record number of food vendors and those at booths selling gifts, ranging from shiny trinkets to the very popular marshmallow guns. They were a configuration of plastic pipe glued together in which a small marshmallow was placed and fired, similarly to a blow-dart tube.
Throughout the cloud-covered afternoon and well into the night, folks formed long lines at every food vendor booth. The Morenci Lions Club sold out of hamburgers and the Greenlee Democrats sold every last cup they had of hot chocolate and coffee. There were vendors offering Navajo tacos (fry bread smothered with all sorts of toppings) and soft tacos.
Certainly one of the most popular, if the not the most popular, were The Sacred Heat Parish green and red chile, meat, and bean burros. Pam Pollock and Patricia Avila did not have much, if any, chance to rest as they sold burro after burro. The Parish has a long-standing reputation of selling some of the best food around. They do not sell burros often but when they do long lines of customers are guaranteed.
There were no complaints whatsoever heard about food sold at any of the booths. Vendors included the March of Dimes and many others, some of which sold cookies and other sweets.
By the time it was completely dark and the Parade of Lights was ready to begin, people were in a very festive mood and in great anticipation of the moving light show that was coming. Both sides of Chase Creek St. were packed tight with people.
The parade was led by the American Legion Post 28 Color Guard. Men solemnly removed their caps and hats as the Stars and Stripes and Arizona state flag passed by. From there, solemnity was thrown to the wind as float after float of dazzling displays passed by. The floats moved slowly to give folks the opportunity to closely see each one. All of the entries were met with cheers and applause.
That included the award-winning, sharp-looking Morenci High School Marching Band, which has participated in the event for several years. The band provided an extra sparkle as lights from other entries reflected off larger instruments such as tubas.
Of all the many parade entries the Clifton Community Garden was awarded the top prize by parade judges. The float emphasized gardening by local people to raise their own produce. Anyone can become a garden participant. They simply must plant and tend to their garden plots throughout the growing season.
“It’s nice to eat your own home-grown food,” a passerby was heard to say. “There’s just something really special about it when it comes to harvest time. Besides, it keeps me away from the TV and my computer. It’s nice being outdoors and doing something so productive.”
The community garden is the brainchild of Clifton resident Steve Ahmann, who encourages local folks to participate.
Most of the festival crowd was gone by 8 p.m. It was no surprise if many skipped supper at home because of all the good food they ate. That, and many took home what they bought for perhaps a later supper or a next-day meal.
One of the definite positive notes of the event was people mingling and visiting. Some folks were from out of town and it was a very good opportunity to see friends and relatives. Eric Garcia, of Bisbee, may have stated it best. He said he and his family were in town for a ball game and were visiting relatives. They heard about the festival and made it a point to attend.
“This is all like family,” he observed. “This is really cool to see all these people getting together like this.”
Bisbee, like Clifton, is a historic mining town but receives much more publicity than does Clifton. Garcia said he was very surprised by the festival, especially by all the people in attendance. He added that nothing comparable to the Clifton Festival of Lights exists in Bisbee.
Best of Parade- Community Gardens
Judges Choice- Miners Diner
Best Use of Music- Morenci High School Pride Band
Best Use of Lights- Merlinda Whitney
Best Use of Theme- Valley Telecom
Best Group Participation – 4-H
Most Unique- Jarret Yargus and Ashlie Clark
Cash Prize- Girl Scouts Troop 1573
Facebook Favorite- Jarret Yargus and Ashlie Clark
Gift Basket Donated by The Headframe Apothecary- Ray Babb
One Night Stay at Apache Gold Casino- Samantha Orr
$500 Wreath – Julia Alva