NORMALLY, WHEN I set out on an outdoor adventure, it involves fishing rods, shotguns or deer rifles, cross-country skis, snowshoes or hiking boots.

The adventure may be a simple walk with the dogs or by myself on a dirt road or it could be cross-country over hill and dale. It may be a partridge hunt, summer afternoon of panfish jigging or hours spent with my back against a tree listening for turkey gobbles.

The scenery may vary, anywhere from a small secluded lake tucked back in the woods away from other people, a vista overlooking an open valley surrounded by steep ridges, a Lake Superior shoreline with 8-foot breakers crashing over the beach or a view from the top of a mountain like Cloud Peak in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.

Each adventure, whether of short duration, in familiar woods or through territory which most likely will only see me once in my lifetime, is a time of peace, quiet and tranquility. Each adventure, no matter how big or small, leaves me with something special to hold onto, something I will remember for a long time.

Last weekend, my wife and I embarked on an outdoor adventure of another kind. Along with 15 friends, we journeyed to Duluth, Minn., where lies the westernmost shore of Lake Superior.

Instead of a tent with sleeping bags and foam pads, we ensconced ourselves on the 14th floor of the Radisson Hotel overlooking Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park. In warm seasons, the park attracts visitors enjoying outdoor entertainment, sunbathing, simple strolls and the like.

For approximately three weeks in December, the park attracts a mob numbering far more than summer sea¬≠gulls. Last year, 330,000 people visited the park, all after sunset, when its 20 acres of land was transformed into a Christmas wonderland. 

“Bentleyville” is named after Nathan Bentley, who gave birth to an outdoor Christmas lights display in the small town of Esko, Minn., in 2001. The lights moved with him to rural Cloquet, Minn., in 2003, where they grew to an attraction drawing more than 70,000 people in its last year on his property.

It was there that a friend of Bentley, supposedly a little on the sarcastic side, dubbed his giant lights display Bentleyville. When Bentley decided the display had worn him down, he took a year off from it, returning when the Duluth mayor called him and asked him if he would do it all over again in a bigger setting and with millions more lights.

Fortunately, for hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights display aficionados like me, Bentley agreed to the arrangement and now, Bayfront Park is the largest free walk-through Christmas lights display in America.

On a cold December night my wife and I, along with our friends, meandered through the park for a good two hours or more “oohing” and “aahing” with the rest of the crowd over the display created with 5 million lights.

The centerpiece is the giant 12-story, 120-foot high Christmas tree which dazzles with a beautiful whirlwind of fast-changing light and color patterns. The overall display is set up using wide, paved pathways which carry the nightly throng of visitors around the park.

The variety of displays is too great to be described here, but rest assured, there are plenty of reindeer, Santas, carolers, angels, dinosaurs (friendly ones), trains, fire engines, nods to winter sports, salutes to all who serve, trees and much more.

On a “Did you know?” display board there are numbers like 5.5 miles of rope lights, more than 12,000 extension cords, 40 cords of firewood keeping warming fires scattered around the park going every night during the display season and others listing the total of free cups of cocoa, cookies and bags of popcorn given away each year at the Cookie House.

As my wife and I strolled around the seemingly endless display of lights, we bumped into our companions now and then when pathways met at an intersection, and the unanimous reaction by everyone was simply “Wow!”

Everywhere you look, there are people posing for pictures with a penguin in a fluffy suit or one of several Rudolphs in costumes. Santa skydives into the park each day during the season at 4:30 p.m. and the display is open for visitors each day at 5 p.m.

One thing I would caution people who might want to tour the display: be ready for crowds. Much of the time, it is elbow to elbow in the open-air “tunnels” framing the walkways. There are young families with toddlers in tow and babies in strollers. There are people making their way through the display in wheelchairs. Simply put, there are people of all descriptions.

As you might expect, the largest throng of people is concentrated at Santa’s station where he greets children of all ages, handing out free winter caps and candy canes as they tell him what they want for Christmas. My wife wanted to sit on his lap, but with a mob of people stretching back through the tunnel almost to its entrance, I convinced her she could wait until we got home where she could sit on my lap with her list of desired presents in hand.

For someone like me, who enjoys putting up a modest little yard display each year, Bentleyville is something like the holy grail. The imagination and, I am sure, the pure love of Christmas lights is what keeps the folks there going strong, now many years into their show.

Stretching to the very edge of Lake Superior, which was covered last weekend with ice, the park is a perfect setting for a Christmas lights display. On a night like we were there with cold noses, fingertips feeling like tiny blocks of ice and faces red from a stiff breeze blowing in off the lake, a person knows for sure they are enjoying a true outdoor experience.

The bottom line, at least for me, is that Bentleyville is a wonderful place for folks of all ages, political persuasions, walks of life and other such things to come together to celebrate Christmas in peace and harmony.