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Pumpkin Nights Unleashes 3,000 Hand-Carved Creations On Southern California

Unearth some buried pumpkin treasure. (MigPxl Miguel Mendoza, courtesy Pumpkin Nights)
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It's autumn. If you want a Halloween experience that's less about scares and more about seasonal joys, Pumpkin Nights has thousands of pumpkins waiting for you. It opens tonight.

It's like a small orange traveling theme park, with seven different Pumpkin Lands, from Forbidden Pumpkin City to Pumpkin Pirate Cove. The event is taking over Pomona's Fairplex, home of the L.A. County Fair.

The attraction includes more than 3,000 hand-carved pumpkins, a combination of synthetic and real orange gourds. Each land includes a mix of the two, though Los Angeles is one of the event's cities with the most real pumpkins, according to Pumpkin Nights director of product management Marielle Croudo.

You don't HAVE to be as enthused as these models, but maybe give it a try? (Courtesy Pumpkin Nights)
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The event is an "illuminated pumpkin walk," Croudo said. It's run by the same company behind the popular Color Run events that leave everyone covered in color, but Pumpkin Nights probably won't leave you with as much laundry to do.

When you arrive, you enter through the Pumpkin Passage -- it's a tunnel of 600 hand-carved jack-o-lanterns, welcoming you into a gently adventurous Halloween world.

Ashlen Clark is one of five pumpkin artists that works at Pumpkin Nights HQ creating the synthetic pumpkins -- she's responsible for everything from large sculptures to the miniature pumpkins. She's been working on this year's pumpkins since February.

One easter egg on the way in, according to Croudo, includes some hidden pumpkins highlighting local L.A. culture -- keep an eye out for L.A. sports team pumpkins.

Welcome to Pumpkin Nights! Be careful not to get eaten by this giant pumpkin! (MigPxl Miguel Mendoza, courtesy Pumpkin Nights)

One of the signature highlights this year is a 9-foot-tall "Jack-O-Lynn" pumpkin. She sets you on a magical quest, giving a story element to the event. Your mission: save the spirit of Halloween.

Clark designed the large sculpture -- along with hand-carving thousands of pumpkins herself. To accomplish your quest, you'll be playing a version of I Spy along the way, so keep your eyes peeled everywhere you go.

Here are the details on each of the lands, along with the spirit they are themed around:


So would pumpkin dragon breath smell like pie? (Courtesy Pumpkin Nights)
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Theme: passion. Here's where you'll find a 40-foot dragon made of pumpkins. The dragon helps visitors to discover and share their passions, according to Pumpkin Nights. The decor of the land includes magical pumpkin Chinese lanterns, along with a reflective pond filled with pumpkin turtles.


Theme: play. This is about as scary as Pumpkin Nights gets, but it's explicitly aimed at kids (along with the kids-in-spirit). You'll find simple attractions like a teeter totter, light-up hula hoops, and more.

You'll also find giant pumpkin bowling, with the pins being giant candy corn. Croudo said that it was her personal favorite land.

"It's just things we lose sight of when you're older, and there is so much to do, and so much stress in your life. Taking a moment to play is so refreshing," Croudo said.


Theme: light. At the hall, you'll find owl pumpkins, along with the most basic of fall experiences: pumpkin spice-scented fog. You may even find a real live owl here.


Celebrate family with the help of the Pumpkin Tree. (Courtesy Pumpkin Nights)

Theme: family. The Halloween traditions being celebrated here include Día de los Muertos, with decorations including sugar skulls and flowers.

"Maravilla Lane speaks to me very personally, because I grew up in Mexico City," Croudo said.

One lower-profile part of the land to watch out for, according to Croudo: you can honor a loved one by writing a loved one's name on a leaf and placing it on the Pumpkin Nights family tree, serving as a Halloween ofrenda.

"They are leaving their mark and honoring somebody that had meaning in their life," Croudo said.


Watch out for the Pumpkin Pirates. (Courtesy Pumpkin Nights)

Theme: adventure.The cove is home to the Guardian Pirates, who guide visitors through a tropical island land. You'll find a Pumpkin Pirate Ship, where you can dig for treasure alongside pumpkin palm trees. You'll even get to walk through sand on a boardwalk.


We don't THINK the glowing pumpkins will give you pumpkin-based superpowers, but maybe! (MigPxl Miguel Mendoza, courtesy Pumpkin Nights)

Theme: exploration. What if The Little Mermaid was set at Halloween? Check out a Pumpkin Octopus, along with UV black light-assisted glowing pumpkins, as you find out. You'll also find bubbles, sea creatures, coral, and jellyfish.

"We will start out with an idea, like we want a giant octopus, or we want a venus fly trap, or we want little gnomes," Clark said. "What we try to convey is how, if it grew out of some little magic pumpkin seed, and it grew out of a pumpkin, rather than being carved into a pumpkin. So we give it stems for arms, or pumpkins for a body."


Theme: imagination. This is one of Pumpkin Nights' newer lands. Pumpkin Gnomes watch over the forest, with seasonal change coming to the Pumpkin Gnome Village. You'll also find an Enchanted Wishing Well to make your holiday wishes.

"I particularly am very excited to see people's reactions when they experience Enchanted Pumpkin Forest, because it reminds me of stepping into a fairy tale," Croudo said.

Clark said it was her new favorite. "Everything's magic, and sparkles, and tiny and cute," Clark said.


Beyond the seven lands, you'll get to enjoy a full Halloween festival experience in Pumpkin Central. You'll be able to watch pumpkin artists at work doing live carvings, working with pumpkins that are 500 to 600 pounds.

"We'll have really good artists that are going to create something that's mind-blowing," Croudo said.

They also have fire shows, movie screenings, a bounce house, and food trucks to grab some grub -- and hot cocoa. They'll be showing The Nightmare Before Christmas all season long.

"We definitely want it to be a tradition during the Halloween season, without all the spooks and scares," Croudo said.

Last year was Pumpkin Nights' first year in L.A., with more than 61,000 visitors, according to Croudo. They're aiming to bring in 70,000 people this year.

Promoters are pitching this as a family-friendly event, a date night option, and just a cool thing to check out with friends. You can also find Pumpkin Nights events spreading across the country from their Salt Lake City base, with other events running in Santa Rosa, Denver, and Dallas/Fort Worth. They had 200,000 guests last year and are aiming to serve 275,000 people across the country this year, according to Croudo.

Croudo got involved herself after visiting Pumpkin Nights in Salt Lake the last two years, and now she's helping to organize it.

Pumpkin Nights begins tonight, running through Sunday, Nov. 3. Tickets are $20 for general admission, with discounts for kids and seniors, family packs, and weekday late nights. It's open daily from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. -- except for on All Hallows' Eve itself, when it's closed.

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