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Sun10252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

For the 27th year in a row, the unique WildLights holiday extravaganza at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert will be one of Santa’s favorite stops in the Coachella Valley—so much so that plans call for him to visit the animal and environment conservatory on 16 separate nights from Nov. 26 through Dec. 28.

A visit with Santa is just one of the varied experiences being offered at the 2019 edition of the zoo’s key annual fundraising event. A sparking tunnel of lights synchronized to holiday tunes, life-sized desert-animal lanterns, and more than 1 million lights await visitors.

“There are a variety of activities that happen during WildLights on a nightly basis,” said Erin Scott, the senior manager for brand, marketing and public relations for The Living Desert. “Guests can visit with Santa. They can also just wander through the light displays around the zoo. New this year is what we’re calling ‘The Dazzling Gift.’ It’s a 15-foot-by-15-foot light installation that will be on Africa’s Savannah Landing. It’s a really big installation.”

For an additional fee, visitors can ride the Polar Express on a magical train ride through Gecko Gulch with falling “snow.” Guests can ride a carousel—specially decked out for the holidays—and make s’mores.

“We expect about 35,000 guests to enjoy WildLights this year,” Scott said. “WildLights is just an amazing community tradition. It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit. We have local residents and members who come year after year, as well as visiting guests. It’s a great way to spend time with family and friends, and get into the holiday spirit.

“The Living Desert is a magical place. And, when you add the glow of holiday lights, it becomes even more magical. It’s just a great holiday tradition.”

The Living Desert is a zoo, of course—and visitors will get to enjoy the presence of animals that come out at night.

“Visitors will be able to see African wild dogs, cheetahs, bighorn sheep, the giraffe and zebras as they stroll the park under the lights,” Scott said. “Being able to see these animals at night adds an interesting element to anybody’s visit. Also, animal encounters will happen nightly between 6:30 and 8 p.m. in our amphitheater. A rotating variety of our animal ambassadors will be available to guests at these times. Guests will be able to get up close and meet some of our desert (animal) residents, get some good photo opportunities, and learn about these special animals. Also, there will be three ‘(zoo)keeper chats’ held throughout each evening: one at the African wild dog (station), one at the cheetah, and one at the warthog.”

The funds generated by WildLights ticket sales provide a lot of the financial support The Living Desert needs for park operations, as well as education and conservation programs.

“On an education-program level, The Living Desert welcomes about 40,000 school children each year through school field trips,” Scott said. “We partner with local schools and organizations for community outreach as well. We welcome guests of all ages to learn about and appreciate The Living Desert, as well as all the deserts of the world. We want to educate our guests about why deserts are important, and just how special deserts really are.”

What exactly does it take to stage a production of this scale every holiday season?

“It’s really a team effort,” Scott said. “The setup begins in September and continues until we’re ready for the opening in late November. There’s internal staff and external teams involved. So, it’s definitely a team effort from all sides.”

WildLights gives visitors a chance to see The Living Desert in a new light.

“There are so many activities around the zoo, and it’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy the beauty of the desert, and offer valuable support to The Living Desert at the same time,” Scott said.

WildLights opens with a members’ only event on Tuesday, Nov. 26, and is open to all from 6 to 9 p.m. on select nights through Dec. 28 at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, at 47900 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert. Admission is $14; $12 for members; and $10 for children ages 3-12. For tickets and more information, including a complete schedule of WildLights nights, visit www.livingdesert.org/events-and-tours/signature-events/wildlights.

Published in Local Fun

The holidays are here again—and that means there are a whole lot of Christmas-themed events going on.

While we could fill pages upon pages of this newspaper with lists of things to do in December, we’ve selected seven of the most intriguing events for your consideration.

Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade: This is definitely the biggest Christmas-themed event in the Coachella Valley. The parade got its start in the early ’90s and has seemingly grown a little larger every year, with more and more illuminated floats—and participants walking whilst wearing lights! The celebrity grand marshal for this year’s event is Lorna Luft, while the community grand marshals are architect Hugh Kaptor and news anchor Gino Lamont. 5:45 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1, along Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs; free; psfestivaloflights.com.

Dave Koz Christmas Tour: It’s become a holiday tradition of sorts for the McCallum Theatre to host jazz saxophonist Dave Koz during the Christmas season. Last year, Koz celebrated his 20-year anniversary of holiday touring—and this year, Koz promises some special guests during his musical celebration of Christmas. When I interviewed Koz last year, he explained how much he enjoys performing holiday shows, in part because Christmas music takes him and others back to innocent times in their lives—therefore bringing out the holiday spirit. This is just one of a handful of great holiday shows happening at the McCallum; check the website for a complete schedule. 8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 18, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert; $62 to $102; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa Sleigh Ride Toy Run: This event is a fundraiser for the JJ Johnson Foundation and will feature a performance by the Charlie Daniels Band. The Southern rock and country star is a lot of fun to experience live—and, of course, he does perform some Christmas music this time of the year. Also on the bill: Steel Wool, Second Sight and Gethen Jenkins. Go on out to Morongo Casino and support a great cause for the holiday season! 1 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon; $30 to $40, or $25 with a toy donation at the door; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Brian Setzer Orchestra’s 15th Anniversary Christmas Rocks! Tour: In each of the last 15 years, rockabilly/swing guitarist Brian Setzer (below) has embarked upon a holiday tour—often with a stop at Fantasy Springs. This is one best musical events of the holiday season, as Setzer puts on a marvelous, high-energy, holiday-themed show, featuring Christmas tunes as well as hits from both his orchestra and the Stray Cats. I’ve attended this show a couple of times, and I promise you’ll have a great time. 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 21, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio; $49 to $79; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus’ Men in Tights—A Holiday SpectacularThis show kicks off the 20th anniversary season of the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus, and will take holiday-themed music … back to the Renaissance? Yep! After the intermission, prepare to hear holiday songs in a more-modern format, including a country-Western-style performance of “Dreydl Dreydl.” OK then! 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Dec. 14 and 15; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 16, at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, in Palm Springs; $25 to $50; www.psgmc.com.

Santa Fly-In and Winter Fun Land: This is a fun annual family event thrown by the Palm Springs Air Museum that features a very special guest—Santa Claus! Santa will meet with children and pose for photographs in a specialty created Winter Fun Land, including snow he’ll bring with him from the North Pole! 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8 and 9, at the Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N. Gene Autry Trail, in Palm Springs; free with museum admission; 760-778-6262; www.psam.org.

WildLights: The Living Desert hosts this annual event every year on selected evenings from Black Friday through Christmas Eve. The park is transformed into an illuminated winter wonderland, complete with entertainment. This is the most festive way to experience The Living Desert for sure! 6 to 9 p.m. on selected evenings through Monday, Dec. 24, at the Living Desert, 47900 Portola Ave., in Palm Desert; $12 for adults; $10 military and children 3-12; free for children 3 and younger; 760-346-5694; www.livingdesert.org.

Published in Local Fun