River of Lights: The three-man crew behind the city’s most beloved holiday event

River of Lights

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The River of Lights is a stunning display of light sculptures at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden. A three-man crew is behind the colorful light displays that are placed throughout the area. The artists and craftsmen work year-round creating and building new displays.


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New Mexico BioPark Society worker Joey Trujillo went from horticulture to artist at the ABQ Botanic Garden. “I have been doing River of Lights probably for about 18 to 17 years,” said Trujillo. He started with a 3D sculpture of a T-Rex. He’s since made hundreds more that are loved by kids and adults. “The Brontosaurus though is our biggest piece… he’s like 56 feet long and the top of his head is 30 feet tall. We call him one-ton cause he literally weighs a ton,” said Trujillo.

Some of his creations can take two months or longer to make. “We’ll go to the zoo and we’ll talk to some of the keepers. We’ll see about some of the dimensions of the foot and how big the body should be and they’ll give me all the measurements, ” said Trujillo. We go from there and we’ll come back here and try to get it as close as we can.”

Levi Swartz left his job as a 911 operator a decade ago to help year-round with the River of Lights. Through the years, he learned to weld.

Swartz’s doodling on a notepad is now a sculpture that stands out along the trail. Swartz and Bucky Bomaster make sure each sculpture is strategically lit.

The crew even makes their artwork appear to be running, jumping, flying, and chomping. “I think there’s eight different cheetahs in modes of running and a flashing sequence to make it look like it’s actually running across the ground,” said Bomaster.

The team of three all agree they have one of the coolest jobs in the city. “We’ve been doing this a long time together. Joey’s been here the second-longest with me and then Levi has been here about ten years now. But we get along great together,” said Bomaster.

The three spend every night at River of Lights flipping switches and secretly getting feedback.

The River of Lights runs from Nov. 27 – Dec. 30 (closed on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25). Tickets will be sold in limited quantities and online only.

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