SALIDA, Colo. — This small mountain town is a recreator’s paradise, tucked along the Arkansas River in the heart of the Saguache Range in the central Colorado Rockies.
“We can go skiing, we can fish, we can bike, [all] on the same day,” said Lori Roberts, the executive director of the Salida Chamber of Commerce.
Its outdoor allure makes Salida a fixture of Colorado’s so-called “banana belt” – the term given to the Arkansas River Valey for its warmer climate comparative to the surrounding region – but also has a downtown Roberts describes as “flavorful” and artsy.
With a population of just 6,000, it doesn’t even crack the top 100 largest cities in Colorado, according to census data. Around Christmastime, though, it's not the size of the town in the holiday spirit, but rather the size of the holiday spirit in the town
And they do Christmas big in these parts.
The day after Thanksgiving, the town lights what’s called Christmas Mountain – a 750-foot-tall Christmas tree outline made out of 4,500 LED lightbulbs on the face of Tenderfoot Mountain overlooking the town.
It gives this small town claim to the largest Christmas tree in the country.
The tradition began in 1989. Ever since, it’s been a group of volunteers and small businesses in Salida that keep Christmas Mountain alive. And, as you might imagine, maintaining a Christmas tree the size of a mountain face is no small task.
“There could be 70 [mile per hour] winds up there, and snow, and somebody has to go up there and do the repair,” Roberts said. “It's it's not a flat [surface]. We're talking gullies and little ravines and it's steep.”
The Christmas Mountain celebration doesn’t stop with the 750-foot tree, either. The tree-lighting event is complete with Santa Claus and a parade. Riverside Park in downtown Salida is transformed into “holiday park” throughout the holiday season.
This season, Christmas Mountain was lit on Nov. 24 and will be lit each night until Jan. 7, 2024.