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Updated Dec 18, 2013 - 10:19 am

Arizona freeway tree's decorators remain anonymous but clearly joyful

Mystery Tree is all dressed up for the holidays. Of course it is. (Arizona Department of Transportation Photo)

PHOENIX -- It's called the Mystery Tree, a juniper located in the median just north of the Sunset Point rest area along Interstate 17.

Every year around Thanksgiving, for the past 30 years or so, the tree has been fully decorated. The big question is who's responsible for the handiwork.

"I've never heard who actually does (the decorating) and I like the mystery to stay that way," said Doug Nintzel of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

He said department crews aren't decorating the tree with ornaments and tinsel. Officer Carrick Cook, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said patrol officers aren't the elves.

"About six to eight years ago, the group that does decorate it actually sent us a Christmas card and they took a picture of themselves with their backs turned to conceal their identity," Cook said. "It's a tradition and an interesting story and people enjoy that the tree is a mystery and nobody has been able to solve it."

Cook said the tree is really a miracle tree, because it has survived several brush fires.

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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