As you drive North from Phoenix on I-17, the terrain changes pretty quickly as the altitude increases. The “Valley of the Sun”, an ever expanding Arizona metropolis, fades away after about 20 miles, as the road starts to wind up through the foothills around New River. Desert dwellers are now fewer and far between as the geography reverts back to familiar desert landscape of scruffy plants, granite rocks and prickly pear. Folks who choose to live in the desert are independent souls, not unfriendly, but keep to themselves. Unless you happen to stop in the cafe at Rock Springs, residents are nowhere to be seen.
The elevation now is around 1,500-2,000 feet and the saguaros grow here. Looking out on both sides of the road, this forest of strange sonoran desert trees, with their twisted arms, are always a fascinating sight.
The elevation quickly increased to 3,000 feet in just a few minutes and there are no more saguaros. Seldom do you see the other half of the divided Interstate road to the left, as it makes it’s own way down the mountain.
The last leg up the mountain was steep and now the mesa stretches out before you. The canyons and mountains to the West are very dramatic, so naturally there’s an overlook rest stop at Sunset Point.
About two or three miles past Sunset Point, the road takes a long, long curve and if you look over to the left, in the terrain between the roads, you’ll see the Christmas tree. This is still desert landscape so it’s not a pine tree – it’s just a big old fat juniper or scrub oak growing there that has been magically transformed with big, beautiful, crazy looking, maybe handmade ornaments, ribbons and a big star on top. This tree has no Christmas lights, so unless you pass by during the day, or there’s a full moon at night, you won’t get to see it.
Every year it simply appears – nobody knows who is responsible – nobody claims recognition. In fact, it would have to have been done at night because nobody has ever seen anybody decorating an old tree in the middle of the highway. Sometime in January, all the decorations are taken down.
I love this. A simple act of kindness. A gift for no reason except to give joy to travelers. No need for thanks or recognition. An Arizona Santa Claus story in the true spirit of the season, that giving, in an of itself, is the reward.
Can’t you just picture this crew? Parked somewhere off road but near by – there’s a lot of decorations to hang. A couple of tall ladders, big boxes of stuff. Everything must be tied on to the tree really well – remember those big trucks and unpredictable weather could cause quite a mess if the decorations started to blow away. There’s never a mess – nothing ever goes flying off.
I don’t need to know who does this – I don’t want to know. I only want to look for that Christmas tree every December and see it there.
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