The Cal Poly Universities’ “Road to Reclamation” entry will be one of the first floats to glide down Colorado Boulevard for the 134th Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 2. It will follow parade sponsor Honda’s float, an early showing of the only student-built and student-designed float in the annual showcase watched by tens of thousands in person and by millions worldwide.
Embodying the 2023 Rose Parade theme of “Turning the Corner,” the “Road to Reclamation” depicts the regenerative power of nature — turning old resources into new life. Vaulting to 25 feet, it features gigantic snails and colorful fungi on the forest floor converting a fallen log into nutrients for their community.
A giant, purple-shelled snail decorated with Florigene Moonshade carnations will eye the crowd atop its amaranth-adorned mushroom while below it other animated snails will be playing chase and scouting the parade route ahead. Mechanical lady bugs will flap their wings on the forest floor, which will be verdant with 112 pots of bromeliads, green moss and green mums that will mimic the texture of moss and lichen. The brown log will be covered by ground coffee and foraged pinecones and crumbled sycamore and magnolia leaves from the Pomona and San Luis Obispo campuses.
Despite being ahead of schedule with dry material decoration and testing the animations mechanisms (mechs), no Rose Parade float makes it onto the parade route without its last-minute surprises. Humidity from recent rain made required longer drying time for the glue. Another curveball was the glue’s oxidization that altered the color of some dry materials, like the leaves of purple statice, a type of sea lavender. The solution: more layers to conceal the unwanted green of the first layers that were most saturated with glue.
To find the best substitutes for materials, Pomona and San Luis Obispo decorations chairs Elaina Reyes (’23, materials engineering) and Quinn Akeman (’23, plant science) tested multiple plants. Purple yams seemed the perfect deep and vibrant color when sliced, but the float glue turned the vegetable a paler pink. Purple cabbages turned out to be perfect. The team also intended to use bronze-hued mums for some of the snail shells but after more testing with strawflowers, dried orange petals emerged as the clear best choice.
“It’s like a scientific process, with rounds of hypotheses and testing,” Akeman said. “It’s nice when the final option ends up being the best option.”
In the week leading up to parade day, students and more than 120 volunteers begin the process of covering the float with live material while it is parked at Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena, next to the Honda and Snapchat float entries.
The Pomona and San Luis Obispo teams tested the mechs that animate the snails and lady bugs twice a day to make sure that each added layer of dry materials did not encumber movement. Volunteers worked in two shifts to patiently glue dried materials like ground coffee, quinoa and pumpkin seeds to the snails and mushroom stems, along with hundreds of half-crescent slices of fragrant citrus and daikon radishes.
Dozens of hands filled approximately 12,500 vials of emerald-green vials with water and plant food that will keep the most delicate flowers bright and vibrant on parade day. Floral arrangements will be tucked among the boughs of rescued Christmas trees, which San Luis Obispo vice president Tomas Martinez (’22, mechanical engineering) said are perfect for concealing the finger-length cylindrical vials.
Two trucks of live florals that arrived over two days bearing green roses the color of young leaves, irises, bright gerberas, and white and fuchsia carnations that will cover more than 2,500 square feet of the float’s recreation of a forest floor micro-ecosystem.
“The Road to Reclamation” is the third float Pomona team president Ryan Ward (’22, mechanical engineering) has helped bring to fruition. He joined the team in 2018 and worked on Aquatic Aspirations. For the next two years, he was design lead for 2020’s StarGrazers. His favorite part of this year’s entry is “taking a small, often overlooked, part of nature and scaling it up to the size of a 55-foot-long Rose Parade float.”
Rose Parade floats operate on a much larger scale with teams on two campuses separated by 200 miles for most of the year.
“Something that is difficult to simulate in a class or most other clubs is large-scale project experience,” said Ward, whose duties include co-managing up to 200 students and volunteers. “You may work in a group project or on a team to building something, but these tend to be anywhere between three and maybe 20 people, tops…We’re building something that real-world companies pay millions for, weighs 44,000 pounds, and is televised to millions of people. I’m getting the engineering know-how from my classes, but I’m getting leadership and project management experience from Rose Float, especially as I’ve worked my way up to through the program.”
This experience is what cinched a post-graduation job for Ward. In mid-January, he will join Arrowhead Products, Los Alamitos-based aerospace engineering and manufacturing company, as their newest project engineer.
HOW TO WATCH
The Rose Parade is typically scheduled on New Year’s Day, but this year will be held on Jan. 2 to keep sacred the “No Sunday” rule implemented in 1893 to accommodate church services. This year’s Rose Float winners will be announced at 6 a.m., followed by the parade at 8 a.m.
- In person: Arrive early, possibly the day before to secure your spot along the street or pay for premium seating tickets.
- Network and cable television: KTLA-5, NBC-4, ABC-7, Univision-34, The Cowboy Channel and Rural Free Delivery (RFD) TV
- Streaming: NBC/Peacock, KTLA, ABC and Univision channel apps; Hulu+ Live TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV Stream, and Sling TV