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Most of the year, Tenderfoot Mountain looming over downtown Salida sports a giant lighted “S” for Salida and a large red heart as an ode to the town’s endearing nickname “Heart of the Rockies.” But when it lights up the night after Thanksgiving, its message is one of holiday cheer.

Courtesy of Facebook.

During October and November, hardy volunteers plan, then hike the mountain where it is transformed into something even more spectacular, something locals call the world’s largest Christmas tree … and the city of Salida as Christmas Town U.S.A.

But how did this tradition start?

Lighting ‘Christmas Mountain’ has been a tradition in Salida only since 1989. A now-retired electrical contractor gathered his crew to decorate the mountain with 220 colored flood lights powered by 22,000 watts of electricity (think: BIG electricity bill). The effect looked good to planes flying overhead, but from town it appeared to be just a bunch of big light bulbs.

Lighting Christmas Mountain USA in Salida Nov. 27, 2020 as seen from Riverside Park. Merrell Bergin

In 1990 surveyors sketched a mountain-sized tree and volunteers strung extension cords and Christmas lights on the steep and rocky face of the mountain, strung up on metal rebar.

This time, when the lights came on, the display was a big success and the tradition that we know and love was embraced.  One Ark Valley Voice staffer recalls doing his volunteer mountain goat act, shivering in the stiff wind for hours, helping to pound in the rebar.  “Challenging but immensely satisfying”, he said.

Christmas Mountain now glows with green (LED) lights outlining a 750-foot-tall Christmas tree above the city. The tree is complete with illuminated ornaments, garland and of course a tree top star.

Catch this year’s lighting on Friday November 27 after (which translates to around 6:00 p.m.. The community is encouraged to view the lighting from their yards, porches, and balconies to help keep crowds down and healthy for the holidays.