The Christmas tree beside the road about 10 miles north of Delta on Highway 50 has not always been there. In fact, it was planted by Ted Hayden to replace the original tree that grew closer to the highway.
For at least 50 years, it gave passersby pleasure — not only at Christmas and before the mysterious elves started decorating it, but all though the years, as it sprouted from a tiny seed and grew unaided, defying the cold, windswept and unrelenting desert it chose to call home. The earliest history I can find on the tree came from Dorthy Fee of Fruita. Dorthy said she first noticed the tree in 1949 when it was not much more than two feet tall. She had to comment on it because it was so tiny, and was a perfectly shaped little Christmas tree that stood all alone out there on the barren stretch of prairie. Of course, it had come from a seed, possibly carried and dropped by a bird from a piñon tree growing in the canyon below.
Each year, as Dorthy passed the spot, she looked for the little tree, hoping it had not died or that someone had dug it up for their yard. But it bravely withstood the weather elements, and was not bothered by human hands. Each year it grew a little taller. Dorthy said she thought many times of decorating it for Christmas, but never did.
It was some time in the 1950s when I noticed the tree; it was a small, perfectly shaped little Christmas tree and I, too, thought how nice it would be to decorate it for the holidays. However, like Dorthy, I thought about it, but never did. I just hoped that no one would cut it for their Christmas tree. I did not know Dorthy at the time, but I'm sure we were not the only ones who noticed the tree, smiled and commented on it. Although others have written about it and called it lonely, I'm sure it wasn't lonely — although there are no other trees within miles of it. I think the traffic was its friend, and it brought pleasure to many travelers who smiled just to see the staunch little tree waving at all who cared to look.
Then, early in the '60s, someone else had the same notion Dorthy and I had — one December, lo and behold! The little tree blossomed out with some Christmas ornaments and each year thereafter, more ornaments appeared. For a few years, it took a while for the decorations to be removed after the holidays, but after a while that came to pass also.
All these years, it has been a mystery as to who started this tradition. I heard it was the Delta school children, but I've called at least a dozen school and school bus personnel, and found out nothing. It remains a pleasant mystery — one that has escalated to an annual event. Anyone who cares to take ribbons, baubles or bows out to hang on the tree does so, and many do, as you can see if you drive by. In 1980, Dorthy and Bob Fee took ornaments to put on the already generously decorated tree and took pictures of it. In 1981, they made the trip again to find it a problem to find space for their ribbons and bows. In 1982, they got there ahead of almost everyone and for once could pick their spot. Although the tree was almost free of ornaments for the time being, they took their pictures anyway.
In 1988, Dan Gunn, along with Doug and his children Amy and Brad Roper, strung electric lights on the highway side of the tree and hooked them up to a generator. So for a few hours on Christmas Eve, the tree twinkled with lights. At one time, when the highway was widened, the crew moved it over just a tad to save the tree, and they also made a little ditch and indentation by the tree to catch what rainwater the desert might be the recipient of. In the '80s, I took a picture and wrote an article for the Snake River Press, a little Wyoming newspaper, and there have been other out-of-state newspapers that have featured the tree as well.
It seems that all good things must at some time come to an end, and so it was with our friendly little tree that gave so much pleasure, no matter how fleeting, to so many. It slowly started turning brown and shedding its needles and it soon became apparent the tree was dying. No one knew why the death of the tree came about. The highway was so close, it might have been the traffic packing the soil over its roots, or the exhaust from so many vehicles, or it might simply have been time for it to go. It left the world a better place for having seen the fortitude, determination and pleasure brought by one little seed to so many — the tree fought all odds against living in a dry, dusty, windswept desert such as it did.
After its death, the tree was not left to stand naked without its beautiful green needles for all the world to see, but was removed and buried — a fitting end for a heart-warming tradition.
Another tree was brought in and planted further from the road, not to replace it, but to honor its life and to carry on the tradition of the tree that came about alone and unaided.
The new tree stands alone and proudly heralds Christmas and the New Year and has for its claim to fame a photo taken of the Hale-Bopp Comet by Paul Nelson of Grand Junction, who used the tree as a frame for the photo — a shot that can only be duplicated in the next 4,000 years.
(Editor's note: This article was first published in the Fence Post in 1999. Helen is now 98 and a resident of an assisted living facility in Montrose. She notes the tree and its replacements have given much pleasure to travelers from far and near.)blog comments powered by Disqus