Sunday, December 20, 2009;
WHY: A city of lights, roasting marshmallows on an open fire and Gothic-chic.
WHERE: Cumberland and Flintstone, Md.
HOW FAR: About nine miles from start to finish, and about 130 miles from Washington.
How many bulbs does it take to illuminate the holiday light show at Rocky Gap State Park?
About 100,000, by this elf's estimate.
"We use 200 bulbs just to light up a little rabbit display," said Bill Crawford, executive director of the Western Potomac chapter of the American Red Cross, which oversees the "Mountain Reflections" event. "I'm sure not counting the rest of them."
Crawford and his team test Allegany County's power grid with the mile-long spectacle, which is set in a clearing of red oak and maple trees. The workers string thousands of colored bulbs over wire frames to form 65 displays, creating a Lite-Brite landscape of a full-size church, an igloo, cartoon-cute penguins and Rudolph driving a truck towing Santa in his broken-down sleigh.
When Jack Frost starts nipping on appendages, Santa's Snack Shack offers hot chocolate around a bonfire as well as skewers for roasting marshmallows. Three white cubes sell for a dime, or go all out with a make-your-own-s'mores kit for 50 cents.
Covering more than 3,000 acres, Rocky Gap is about six miles from Cumberland, site of an Algonquin tribal village used by the British army as a camp during the French and Indian War. (Lt. Col. George Washington was also headquartered here during that conflict.) During the golden age of railroads and canal boats, the town was transformed into a shipping center, but it drifted into obscurity in the second half of the 20th century. Vestiges of the high life remain: Gothic-style mansions and churches made of local sandstone, which today's inhabitants fussily maintain and deck out for the holidays.
"It's the kind of town where you expect Jimmy Stewart to walk out from around the corner," said local historian Dave Williams. And where you can see Santa lit up in his holiday best.
-- Ben Chapman