With the holiday season officially beginning, Albuquerque marked by the change of seasons with Albuquerque BioPark’s annual River of Lights display.

Set up in the BioPark’s botanical gardens, the River of Lights features millions of glowing Christmas lights covering nearly every inch of the gardens. Many of the lights are arranged into the 550 sculptures designed to amaze the crowds attending.

The use of lights as an artistic medium allows for more imaginative creations, such as the pirate ship that sits in the center of the courtyard. In previous years, the ship was displayed in the large expanse of grass in the center of the botanical gardens, but it has been moved to make room for an even larger and more striking sculpture.

The River of Lights’ largest sculpture yet, a brachiosaurus standing 600 feet tall, stands in the center of the gardens, reaching toward the tops of the trees.

All of the sculptures for the River of Lights are created by local artist Joey Trujillo. He is assisted by staff members who have full-time jobs building the sculptures in preparation for the Christmas season.

“They can take a small toy, or even a simple idea, conceptualize it and transform it into a 3D masterpiece,” Danielle Flores Mills, the marketing and events coordinator for the BioPark Society said. “We can take it one step further; not all of our sculptures are static displays. Some appear to be running, jumping, flying, chomping - you can almost say our sculptures are living pieces of art.”

Most of the sculptures pay tribute to the BioPark and the wildlife that it houses. Along one of the garden paths are hummingbird sculptures whose flashing lights created the illusion of rapidly fluttering wings.

In the courtyard just outside of the gardens, visitors can see lights arranged to resemble the marine life represented by the BioPark Aquarium, including an sculpture of a humpback whale near the front gates.

The River of Lights is also a way to support the BioPark, since proceeds from the event go to renovations and upkeep in various areas of the park, helping to keep it a popular destination for both tourists and Albuquerque residents.

“It’s a fundraiser for this park, and that’s really nice because it’s one of the few family-friendly educational parks in Albuquerque,” Hannah Wilcox, a graduate student at the University of New Mexico said. “It’s nice to be able to donate to it.”

In addition to the light displays, there are multiple food stations set up throughout the gardens where visitors can purchase drinks such as hot chocolate, coffee and cider, as well as snacks such as churros, funnel cakes, gingerbread cookies, and many other types of pastries.

The gardens tend to be crowded when the event opens at 6p.m., making it a bit more difficult to get around, but the crowd size tends to start dwindling down at around 7:30, clearing out more space on the garden paths and giving visitors a better view of the displays.

The large crowds are warranted, as the River of Lights has become an incredibly popular citywide Holiday tradition since its beginning in 1996, with Albuquerque residents looking forward to seeing the creativity of the BioPark staff and enjoying the magical atmosphere created by the twinkling lights.

“With our longevity comes a holiday tradition that many families have participated in over the years” Flores Mills said. “We’ve heard numerous guests tell us they come out every year, and they always point out how much the event has grown and how much brighter the lights shine.”

The River of Lights will be open until Dec. 30 from 6 p.m.until 9:30 p.m. Tickets and more information can be found by contacting the BioPark or by visiting riveroflights.org.

Veronica Apodaca is a culture writer for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @veeapodaca.