By Mark H. Reddig
Every year as winter closes in, the day gets shorter and dark falls on the highway earlier each night. It’s only natural that we seek light.
In the old days, the tribesmen of Europe would combat the descending dark with great log fires on the festival of the Winter Solstice – the holiday they called Yule.
We don’t light tree-sized logs anymore – most of our homes couldn’t begin to accommodate one – but we still celebrate the Yuletide with lights – albeit electric ones.
For the second time, Land Line brings you our annual holiday layover and side trip suggestions – a few places to stop along the road and enjoy a few moments off during the holiday season.
The holidays begin at home
The Clot Family Christmas Display
Back in the 1960s, Miami-area resident and holiday aficionado William Clot lived not far from a famous Christmas display in Coral Gables, FL.
Clot already decorated his front yard, mostly for family. But during the late ’60s, the man in Coral Gables stopped putting up his yearly display. Clot decided someone had to carry on.
Each year, Clot would add a bit more to his display. Now, his son Josh Clot says the 1-1/2 acre Clot Family Christmas Display includes more than 100 animated figures and more than 650,000 lights – more than some cities use.
“Christmas was always a big thing for him when he was growing up, a big tradition in his family,” said Josh Clot, who fields calls about his father’s display. “He kind of wanted to carry that on.”
At first, William Clot decorated with the relatively piddling number of 25,000 or so lights.
“The year that he (the Coral Gables man) stopped doing it, my dad went and bought a whole bunch of stuff that went around the corner of his house which could be seen from the busier street that’s nearby, which is 120th Street,” Josh Clot said.
“The people started coming by. He just started building from there.”
William Clot started to add other elements, including animated figures from department store displays. The display got some additional muscle in the form of pure wattage. Most holiday decorations, even city or large corporate displays, use 1/10-watt bulbs, Josh Clot said. But 150,000 of the bulbs used in the Clot display are 7-watt bulbs. And the number of visitors has become staggering.
“It’s really overwhelming now,” Josh Clot said. His father “can literally say he has spoken to millions of people in his back yard. Last year, we gave out 60,000 candy canes to children.”
Josh isn’t sure if it can be seen from space, but he does know it can be seen from a pretty good altitude, and up to 10 miles away – he has seen it himself, from a helicopter.
“Some people have summer homes, some people have boats. He doesn’t have any of that; he’s got Christmas stuff,” Josh Clot said. “And it’s done in a way that you won’t see anywhere else.”
The family’s holiday tradition won the first Today Show award for best privately owned display in the country.
For the past decade, money placed in the two donation boxes at the display has been donated to the Woman’s Cancer Association, an association that raises funds for cancer research for the University of Miami. Josh Clot said more than $400,000 had been raised.
The Clot Family Christmas Display is open from sunset to 11 p.m. weeknights, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays from Thanksgiving through Jan. 1. Admission is free.
The display is in the Pinecrest section of Miami. Sgt. Bruce Fisher with the Florida DOT motor carrier enforcement unit suggests this route: Take U.S. 1, aka the Old Dixie Highway, to Ludlum Road Exit. Go south on Ludlum, which is also called 67th Street, to Southwest 120th Street. Park and walk two blocks west on 120th Street to Southwest 68th Court, which is where the display is.
Bobtails are preferred – Josh Clot said they should have no trouble driving to the display. Although it is a strictly residential area, street parking is available along Ludlum Road, and that bobtails should be able to park in the area.
In addition, trucks have delivered into the area on numerous occasions.
Be on the watch for “no trucks” signs – although Fisher says this route avoids them.
“Trucking plays a pretty important part in all of this. All of the cases of lights we receive are delivered by truck,” he said.
Contact the Clot family by e-mail at email@example.com for additional information.
An Old West Christmas
Dry Gulch USA and The Christmas Train
On the shores of Lake Hudson near Adair, OK, Dry Gulch is a year-round Christian camp and retreat center operated by Tulsa, OK-based Willie George Ministries. The camp is an 1880s-style Western town, full of Victorian-style wood buildings that have been used as the set for several Western movies.
Dry Gulch features restaurants, shops and an authentic steam-engine train. But it’s during the holiday season that the camp is transformed into something more.
Visitors arrive in the parking lot and are taken in an old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon down to the town of Dry Gulch, where they are greeted by staff in old West costumes. The buildings are outlined in more than a million lights, shops are full of holiday items, and the old steam engine becomes The Christmas Train.
Travelers on the train are treated to a series of Bible stories, including the life of Jesus, as told through a series of displays along the track. The train then takes riders to Santa’s Village, another old West style town, which is full of more restaurants, holiday light displays and the Jolly Old Elf himself.
A trip to Dry Gulch is definitely family-style entertainment. Profanity and alcohol are not permitted, and smoking is permitted only in designated areas.
The Christmas Train runs on only certain nights from Friday, Nov. 28, through Sunday, Dec. 21.
Advance reservations are necessary. For reservations or specific nights of operation, call (918) 234-8100, or go to christmastrain.com on the Web.
Sunday through Thursday, tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children 11 and under; Friday and Saturday, tickets run $10 and $8. Admission is free for children younger than 24 months.
To reach Dry Gulch from Tulsa, OK, take Interstate 44 east to the Adair exit, which is state Highway 28. Go east to U.S. 69 at Adair. Turn south, and take U.S. 69 for 41¼2 miles. Turn left at the Dry Gulch billboard, and follow that road for 91¼2 miles.
Christmas in the Park
San Jose, CA
This year, San Jose, CA, will mark the 25th anniversary of one of the nation’s most special holiday celebrations.
Christmas in the Park features the city’s 60-foot Christmas tree, a decorated train and dozens of holiday displays, from Santa’s Workshop, The North Pole Shipping Department and a holiday animal choir, all lit with thousands of Christmas lights. Many of the exhibits are animated and include festive music.
Starting on opening day, Nov. 26, visitors can ride the train and look over the displays.
But unlike many other holiday displays this year, San Jose’s offers the chance to take part in the real spirit of the holidays – giving. People who attend the holiday tradition can donate canned goods for the Second Harvest Food Bank, a toy for the Toys for Tots campaign or a child’s book for the InnVision Literacy program.
Several events will take place in conjunction with Christmas in the Park as well, including the city’s holiday parade, scheduled from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Dec. 5, and daily live music performances.
A number of restaurants are near the site, and the information booth in the park offers directions and other details.
Food and snacks are also available in Christmas in the Park, offered by local civic groups.
Christmas in the Park is located at Plaza de Cesar Chavez in the center of downtown San Jose.
The site is at Market Street, between San Fernando Street and San Carlos Street.
The display is open daily from 9 a.m. to midnight from Nov. 26 through Jan. 2. Admission is free.
Downtown San Jose has very little if any available truck parking. However, the area can be accessed by truckers through the region’s light rail system, operated by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, or VTA.
Take Interstate 880 southbound to the Tasman/Great Mall Parkway exit, which is halfway between the interstate’s connections with California Route 237 and the Montague Expressway.
When you get off the exit, turn right. You should be able to see the I-880 at Milpitas Light Rail Station.
The parking lot is large and not as heavily used as others in the system; it can take a limited number of tractor-trailers, but VTA officials say they would prefer truckers come in bobtail.
On the light rail, take the Alum Rock to Santa Teresa line to Tamien Station.
Frank Hernandez with the city of San Jose said that station is a quarter of a block from Cesar Chavez Park, where the display is located.
Christmas in the Park is on the corner of Market and San Carlos Streets. VTA’s light rail runs from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
If you have questions, you can call customer service at (408) 321-2300.