|I-17 Christmas Tree|
For about three decades, travelers eagerly await a glittering diversion in the median near Milepost 254, just north of the Sunset Point rest area. Investigative journalists tried -- and failed -- to identify the anonymous decorators. Some folks credit Santa's helpers. Others insisted that Arizona Highway Patrol officers or Department of Transportation workers were responsible, however they deny any involvement. And no one has ever been caught in the act; nobody steps forward.
That is how the legend was born. And like all good tales (and trees), this one continues to grow.
Some years ago, mystery folks began decking the juniper with red, white and blue for Independence Day. More recently, yellow ribbons appeared in a tribute to overseas soldiers. But every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday trimmings magically appear.
This August, the little tree's life was imperiled. A wildfire burned along the freeway and right up to the trunk, scorching lower boughs and browning some branches. Yet the intrepid juniper survived, and motorists began referring to it by a new name: "Miracle Christmas Tree." Glenn Brown, fire chief in Mayer, says first responders were mistakenly credited with saving the tree's life. "It was a higher power than us," he says. "We did nothing." Greg Gentsch, ADOT's district engineer for the Prescott area, says those who decorate the tree installed a pair of barrels at its base that can be filled with water. The extra moisture may have saved the juniper's life.
Although ADOT normally frowns on displays in freeway medians, at least one state engineer expresses no interest in being the Gentsch who stole Christmas: "I think we treat this a little bit as a special case," he says.