Dragon Lights Festival

Follow along with Dani DeRosa while she discovers the new lantern displays at Dragon Lights Reno as they illuminate the arboretum and gardens in Rancho San Rafael Park.

The Dragon Lights festival runs through August 12. It is a welcome escape from the daily grind. Seeing kids awestruck by life-sized or larger-than-life plants and animals made of fabric and steel lit up against the fading evening sparked joy.

All nearby parking was filled so families trekked about an extra eighth of a mile to the bright colors. The website gives a fairly accurate description when it comes to detailing wheelchair accessibility. There are some inclines and bumps but it is mostly flat. There is ADA parking in lot A. 

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

Next to many of the sculptures are smaller, white rectangles with the words “This Lantern is Sponsored by.” You can pose for pictures with various animals in a social media style frame sponsored by NV Energy. Chicago-based Tianyu Arts & Culture, Inc. claims to actively promote conservation. Their work was featured at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris where “we reused lanterns to the maximum extent in order to reduce the amount of materials used. Additionally, in the process of installation and disassembly, we recycled as many waste materials as possible.” You can read more about the timeline the exhibit represents here

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

The first thing you see as you near the site is a covered bench area dominated by bright flowers and butterflies surrounding the event sign. Sit down and look up to the traditional Chinese lanterns.

In the front of the exhibit you can find the sculpture of your Chinese zodiac animal and a brief description. For example: “Rat. If you were born 1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020 your sign is the Rat. Rats are seen as alert, vigilant and agile; with these traits, rats can resolve bad situations quickly. Rats are able to produce many offspring, symbolizing a large prosperous family which will carry on forever.”

Further down are glowing, stylish tire swings and an LED tile dance floor. A geometric frame creates a multicolored, life-size elephant. Watch out for the tusks! One red and one yellow giant art pin set has kids and adults leaning back into the hundreds of plastic pins to leave an impression of their outline. A pair of elaborately decorated swans bow to one another on the side of a path. With a rustic bridge in the background, there is something odd but charming about the scene. 

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

Introverts can easily take an alternative path and rest in a gazebo covered in greenery or sit on a bench peering through at the giant Chinese dragon glowing through the leaves. Find the large handmade nest at the base of one of these trees. It has a sign that reads “This Songbird Garden exhibit was created by the Great Basin Basketmakers” (who will be offering Zoom classes in September) “and was originally on display at the Nevada State Museum. The display features a handwoven nest and two birds. They are here now to deteriorate over time naturally and return to the earth…” Indeed, you can see a change from past photos online.

According to Washoe County’s website, “These pieces include natural materials such as willow branches, alpaca hair, rope, and other fibers… Watch carefully as squirrels and birds steal little bits of them for their nests! We hope this exhibit brings our community a little closer to the cyclical nature of life, and the inner peace of knowing all things will be repurposed over time.” Finding this organic artifact acts as a little repose to the bold waves of incandescence. 

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

An artist sells precisely sculpted aluminum wire statues of dragons, motorcycles, and flowers and she even made bracelets. In her tent, you can also have your caricature drawn. Find food stands and wooden picnic tables under string lights. You can get a variety of food from funnel cakes to gyros. Photo opportunities abound at every turn; a giant pair of rainbow wings with moving lights may have been the most popular at least until the animatronic dinosaurs. There was also a large crab complete with a smoke machine.

Walk down a nature path surrounded by bright green bamboo stalks and glowing pandas. Adults and children both feel the collective excitement and wonderment. Stick close together when you get to the belly of the whale. Blue translucent fabric dotted with green, blue, and red lights. A row of white teeth lines the gaping mouth. Inside, the muted lights shine through the huge stretch of fabric as your group travels through. The darker it gets the more magical everything looks. Another guest agreed, “It was so magical. Like Alice in Wonderland. We went at dusk and stayed for hours just talking on a bench.”

Speaking of Alice in Wonderland, the China Light Festival features a Lewis Carroll-themed exhibit at the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium. 

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

While walking through the art exhibits, you’ll hear traditional Chinese music or other immersive instrumentals. Gaze up and try to name all the fish that somehow came to find themselves in our desert trees. My favorite character was the carnivorous Venus flytrap that, with its rounded lobes, looked to be inspired by Little Shop of Horrors. The fictional plant was bought from a Chinese shop during a solar eclipse and survives on human blood. This piece moves too. Best stay clear.

Much more age-appropriate is the depiction of a dinosaur egg hatching or the mellow stream of floating bubbles. One young man decided to taste one of the bubbles. He expressly does not recommend it. The bubbles may be produced from dry ice. Maybe they’ll make a sign in his honor: Please, do not eat the bubbles. 

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa
Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

Catch the show while it’s still here. Buy tickets. If you aren’t able to make it, the arboretum at Rancho San Rafael regional park is still a rare oasis of greenery within Reno.

There will also be the Picnic in the Park Music Series in September, the Fall Bulb Festival in October, and the Amaryllis Bulb sale in December. Click here for more details.  

Dragon Lights -Image: Dani DeRosa

Find Dragon Lights on social media:

Dani DeRosa is the Sierra Nevada Ally’s Civic Action Coordinator. She is a multimedia journalist from Sparks, Nevada driven to serve stigmatized and underserved populations and has done so in both healthcare and as a grassroots events coordinator. She’s led entrepreneurial workshops with both The Holland Project and Reno Bike Project.

Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant 501c3 nonprofit publication with no paywall, a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, offering unique, differentiated reporting, factual news, and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation, and public policy, while giving voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.


This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top