A Yampa Valley Christmas is not complete without at least one drive by the Stanko Ranch on Twentymile Road. As you drive on Twentymile toward the house, all you see are stars and an occasional porch light. But round a curve, and the Stanko Ranch appears as unexpectedly as Las Vegas appears in the desert.
The Stanko Christmas wonderland took first place this year in the annual "Light Up the Night" Holiday Tour of Lights contest sponsored by the Yampa Valley Electric Association and the Steamboat Pilot & Today. This is the third time the Stankos have won the award. They will receive a $175 credit toward their electricity bill from YVEA and a one-year subscription to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Jim and Jo Stanko's Christmas display began in the early '80s with a string of blue lights on a small pine tree in front of their house. The next year, they decorated an old tractor with lights as well as stringing the blue lights on the tree. Each year since then, they have added one new element to the display. They have an entire shed on the ranch solely for storing Christmas decorations.
"We try to have a theme every year, or a story," Jo Stanko said. This year, a wooden Santa on skis is taking one last run
down a mound of snow that Jim Stanko formed using his front end loader. Santa is covered in lights, and all around the base of "Mount Stanko," eight or nine reindeer are waiting.
Nearby, a lighted train full of presents is traveling toward them. Penguins and a polar bear complete the tableau, and the side of an outbuilding is decorated to look like the night sky, complete with a curtain of blue lights and stars.
Jim Stanko plowed an extra section in their driveway where people can park, and he shoveled a path around his yard so people can tour the lights.
"Strangers are stopping by all the time, and we don't mind," Jo Stanko said. "Sometimes, there are traffic jams out there of people looking. We'd rather they just drive up to the house. We have plenty of room for them to turn around."
The Stankos consider their display something they do for the community, especially children.
The Stankos hang all the lights themselves.
"These are our ideas and our doin's," Jim Stanko said. The couple starts at about Thanksgiving with a goal of turning the switch Dec. 7 in honor of Pearl Harbor. They keep the lights on every night until New Year's Eve at midnight.
The second-place winners of this year's Holiday Tour of Lights contest were Mark and Jennifer Lea. Their display is a stark contrast to the Stanko's multicolored, multimedia display.
White lights accent the trees, the eaves of the house and the windows. The house already has an old English country home feel, and the lights add an inviting warmth.
"I like white lights because they were originally used to mimic candles," Jennifer Lea said. The Leas' house was entered in the contest by a neighbor.
They didn't know they were competing until they received a call Wednesday announcing that they won second place. The couple will receive an electricity credit worth $100 and a one-year subscription to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.