Santa's helpers decorate the 'mystery tree' on I-17


It's a "Christmas tree" mystery like no other.

Every year around this time, a certain tree along Interstate 17 winds up getting decked out in holiday cheer. And no one has been able to catch those decorating elves in the act!

The juniper tree, growing along I-17 just north of Sunset Point, is now covered in candy canes and other holiday decorations.

The tree is actually somewhat famous around the state. Sitting in the middle of the median of the freeway, the tree is secretly decorated around Christmas and the Fourth of July each year. The Arizona Department of Transportation says that for years, no one has been able to figure out who is responsible.

And there's more. Several years ago, something else happened that was equally puzzling.

On Aug. 3, 2011, ADOT says the 20-foot-high tree survived a brush fire that had already consumed much of the vegetation around it. Flames got so close to the tree that plastic pipes situated near the trunk were melted (the pipes serve as a watering system and were put there, presumably, by the same people who stealthily decorate the tree each year).

The fire started about 200 feet south of the tree and forced a closure of the highway. But, according to ADOT Highway Operations Supervisor Randy Skinner , the tree, amazingly, was not harmed.

“The fire pretty much just burned up to the tree and burned out,” said Skinner, adding fire departments from Mayer and Black Canyon City responded to the blaze.

And that wasn't the first time something like that happened. ADOT employees, who handled traffic control as the fire burned, have seen the tree somehow survive over and over again.


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