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The Mystery of the Christmas Bush on I-17 in Arizona

Real Estate Agent with Coldwell Banker Realty NRDS # 146013739

This is my second entry into the December Active Rain Challenge on Acts of Kindness sponsored by Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist, and Dr. Paula McDonald 


Christmas Bush I-17


The Christmas Bush Brought Decades of Cheer to Travelers

We bought our Sedona home in 2003 and for many years we would travel from  Southern California up Interstate 17  to Sedona for every holiday including Christmas.  When we moved to Sedona full-time we would travel to Phoenix to shop and enjoy the start of the Christmas season.  

The first time we saw this juniper bush/tree decorated we were surprised and delighted.  I didn't know the history and that this tree had been mysteriously decorated since 1988.  

This tree is located just below Sunset Point as you are heading north on the Interstate where the speed limit is 75 mph.  It is very dangerous to pull off the road, let alone decorate this tree.  Rick and I often wondered who decorated it.  We figured it had to be ADOT.  They were the only ones who could pull this feat off safely in the dead of night.  But we were wrong...

Christmas Bush Saved From Fire in 2019... However

Saved from Brush fire

Saved in 2019 by Daisy Mountain Fire Department (courtesy of AZ Central)

There has been at least 3 encounters with brush fire.  Once in 2011 and again in 2019 and one more time, see below...

Scrubby burned I-17 near Sunset Point

I do remember a brush fire in 2021 but I cannot document it through research.  This time the tree was burned well.  It was not decorated during 2020 because of COVID.  We missed seeing it in 2021 and 2022 because it has not been decorated since.  However,  we went really looked for it this year on our annual Christmas shopping trek to Scottsdale.  The pic above is what it looked like with about 15 decorations.  If you blink, you will miss the tree.  

Mystery Solved!

Hundreds of thousands of  travelers have driven past this famous tree over the decades.  It became more famous when the Arizona official state balladeer, Dolan Ellis wrote a song about it in 2019.  By then it had been decorated over 30 years straight.  The person who started this back in 1988 finally came forward to reveal how the tradition got started.  

Nancy Loftis of Phoenix came forward in 2021 when her family felt the fire left the tree too unstable to decorate. They would go up the Sunday before Thanksgiving and decorate the tree.  It would take 3 hours for a group to decorate it and they kept quiet all these years. 

Secret Act of Kindness

Nancy and her family didn't want recognition for doing this.  It was meant to bring some cheer and Christmas spirit into the hearts of the children and other travelers along this stretch of the highway.  She noticed that by the time the kids in the back seat got to this part of the Interstate, boredom had taken its toll. 

 I can tell you that Rick and I looked forward to seeing this tree every holiday season.  Nancy brought thousands and thousands of smiles to the weary travelers during the holiday season.  

Thank you Nancy Loftis! 


Merry Christmas!



Comments (32)

Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Thank you Dennis Neal.  I know Big Bear Lake well from years ago.  We would drive up to the San Bernardino mountains to get away from the heat during the summer when I lived in Alta Loma.  I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. 

Dec 24, 2023 07:11 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Kat Palmiotti - Up until I did this research, we could only guess who decorated the tree.  Solving the mystery doesn't make it any less intriguing.  As I was doing the research, I found a thread on FB that others are looking to identify another Bush or tree that could replace "Scrubby."  We will see if that materializes.  Merry Christmas Eve!

Dec 24, 2023 07:16 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Wayne Martin -  I had no idea when I came up with this topic that I would find out who was responsible for this act of kindness.  I am happy I researched it.  Merry Christmas Eve!

Dec 24, 2023 07:19 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Nina Hollander, Broker - I am so surprised that you have heard about this tree!   It makes my day!  There was always a lot of tinsel and sparkly objects.  You could see it from a distance.  Now, you have to know where to look to see it.  Merry Christmas Eve!

Dec 24, 2023 07:23 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Dorie Dillard Austin TX - I think that the buzz around who was responsible for this, made it special and the YouTube video wrapped it in a bow! Merry Christmas Eve!

Dec 24, 2023 07:26 AM
Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400
The Top Team @ Charles Rutenberg Realty 255 Executive Dr, Plainview NY 11803 - Plainview, NY
Long Island Condo and Home Specialists

Sheri, What a great story. I liked reading about it and the video. It's intriguing when folks partake in hush-hush endeavor.  And yay, the mystery is solved!

Dec 24, 2023 07:39 AM
Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist
KD Realty - 408.972.1822 - San Jose, CA
Probate Real Estate Services

Had it not been for the fires leaving the tree/bush too unstable to decorate, the people responsible for decorating it would likely still be a mystery Sheri Sperry - MCNE® 

I imagine all the fun they had decorating and keeping their identiy secret. 

Thank you for participating in the December Kindness Challenge. 


Dec 24, 2023 08:39 AM
Will Hamm
Hamm Homes - Aurora, CO
"Where There's a Will, There's a Way!"

Hello Sheri and thank you for sharing this kindness story with us here in the Rain.  Hope Santa is good to you tonight.


Dec 24, 2023 09:21 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much, Sheri, for sharing this special story.

Best wishes to you and your family for a Very Merry Christmas.


Dec 24, 2023 09:57 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Kathleen Daniels, Probate & Trust Specialist - I couldn't agree more with you. Each passing year made it more of a challenge to keep it secret. 

Dec 24, 2023 04:33 PM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Lawrence "Larry" & Sheila Agranoff. Cell: 631-805-4400 - I am glad you enjoyed it.  The logistics must have been something to pull this off for over 30 years with no one catching on. 

Dec 24, 2023 04:35 PM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Will Hamm - Have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy your day.

Dec 24, 2023 04:37 PM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Roy Kelley - May your day be all that you hope for.  Stay warm with a some Hot Buttered Rum...

Dec 24, 2023 04:39 PM
Steffy Hristova
HomeSmart Elite Group Tempe AZ Tel: 602.710.8161 - Tempe, AZ
Tempe AZ Realtor - Your Home Close to Your Work!

Hi Sheri, 

What a story! Thanks for researching it. I think we have seen the tree in the past, and wondered how do people get there to decorate it. But it did bring a smile to our faces. 

Dec 24, 2023 05:16 PM
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA


I wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year!

Dec 24, 2023 10:40 PM
Brian England
Ambrose Realty Management LLC - Gilbert, AZ
MBA, GRI, REALTOR® Real Estate in East Valley AZ

That's pretty cool and I am sure that they enjoyed doing it each and every year as well.

Dec 25, 2023 05:30 AM
Bob Crane
Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, KW Diversified - Stevens Point, WI
Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671

Merry Christmas Sheri,

Wishing you and your loved ones many blessings this Christmas!



Dec 25, 2023 01:39 PM
Joan Cox
House to Home, Inc. - Denver Real Estate - 720-231-6373 - Denver, CO
Denver Real Estate - Selling One Home at a Time

Sheri, this is amazing, and did see a few trees and bushes decorated along the way here.  Hope you guys had a great Christmas.

Dec 25, 2023 05:21 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

What a wonderful tale, Sheri. What a special way to bring smiles to the faces of so many travelers passing by for so many years, and all done secretly for so long. I wonder if others ever came along and added a decoration or 2. Thank you for sharing such kindness!

We have several wizened old trees along the coast road above the beach that get decorated each year. I have yet to get to see them for this year but it's on my TO Do list.


Dec 27, 2023 09:06 PM
Dr. Paula McDonald
Beam & Branch Realty - Granbury, TX
Granbury, TX 936-203-0279

I know many people who have been affected by fires and they are devastating. What a beautiful thing to do with these Juniper trees. I love this.

Jan 02, 2024 07:09 AM