Missing their signature event, organizers of the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo chose to take advantage of the ghost-town atmosphere created by COVID-19 restrictions.
“Haunted Hills” offers a drive-through experience at the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center, 4040 Highway 101, for six nights this month. The rodeo grounds sit east of Highway 101 at Santa Maria Way.
With the warning “drive thru if you dare,” Haunted Hills features a 3-mile route where cowboys of past rodeos and “restless equipment” come to life, serving up about 20 fear-inducing scenes, creepy sounds and scary interactions, according to organizers.
“For opening night, we’re super excited, and I think it will just build,” spokeswoman Johnna Clark said as vehicles lined up to enter Haunted Hills.
Haunted HIlls features a creepy farm scene along the route. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Those creating the fright night scenes are “normal Elks Rec volunteers,” Clark added.
In the Haunted Hills, the volunteers get to display their angry side — one shouting, “Get off my farm!” — or offer up eye puns as visitors travel along the route or scream into the dark night.
Signs remind visitors of safety rules. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, organizers scrambled to put together a Halloween-themed event that met public health rules.
“This was a huge effort to be able to creatively come up with an event that we could get approved,” she said, adding that a lot of the props used along the route to create the creepy scenes already existed at the rodeo grounds.
The inaugural haunted experience has been organized by Elks Recreation in collaboration with the Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department and the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Organizers say the event is recommended for those age 10 or older.
Haunted Hills held its debut Friday night and will offer more chances on Friday and Saturday nights through October at the rodeo grounds.
Upon entering the site, visitors are directed to tune their radios to a station for creepy music to help create the mood.
Nightly experiences are limited in keeping with public health protocols and are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 17, Oct. 23-24 and Oct. 30-31.
Tickets will not be sold at the entrance and must be purchased in advance. Admission, $30 per vehicle plus processing fees, can be purchased online only by clicking here. Organizers said limited tickets will be released and scheduled in hourly increments.
Rodeo queens and princesses turned zombies. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Haunted Hills is one of two holiday events crafted in response to COVID-19 restrictions that have limited events held frequently at the rodeo grounds.
The Elks/Unocal Event Center also will host “Christmas in the Country,” envisioned as a drive-through “magical holiday light experience.”
The Christmas event also will include “Stuff the Stocking,” with proceeds going to the Golden Circle of Champions program devoted to raising awareness of childhood cancer and providing financial support to families enduring pediatric cancer.
About 20 scenes along the 3-mile route make up the Haunted Hills drive-through experience. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
The event also will involve Elks Recreation plus the Recreation and Parks Department.
“Christmas in the Country” organizers were seeking sponsorships, donations and volunteers.
For more information, call the Elks Rodeo Office at 805.925.4125, visit the website by clicking here or send an email to [email protected].
The Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center has turned into Haunted Hills, a drive-through experience offered Friday and Saturday nights through October. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)