Just How Old is Western Colorado’s Highway 50 Christmas Tree?
Have you seen the decorated tree just off of Colorado's Highway 50 between Grand Junction and Delta? How long has it been there?
You've probably seen this tree a thousand times. If you're driving from Grand Junction to Delta, it's immediately off the right side of the road. You'll see it about 15 miles or so before reaching Delta. I can't remember a time it wasn't there. Does anyone know how long it's been around?
It has undoubtedly been there my entire life, and I was born in 1970. For as long as I can remember, people have decorated the tree with various ornaments and other decorations. According to the Daily Sentinel, at various points in its history, it has even been illuminated with Christmas lights courtesy of a generator provided by Dan Gunn, then the owner of Gunn's Generator Service
This is a bit iffy. Back in June 2018, the Daily Sentinel did an expose', "Burning Question: What's the Story Behind the 'Christmas Tree' Along U.S. Highway 50?" That article states the tree has been there since at least the 1950s or '60s.
This sounds about right. Why do I say that? I was going through a pile of Bob Grant photos when I encountered a print of this very tree. The photo is dated 1960. I'm confident this is the same location where a decorated tree still exists right off Highway 50.
This brings up an interesting point. Sadly, the tree you see now is not necessarily the same tree that stood there in 1960. According to the Daily Sentinel, during the construction of U.S. Highway 50, a couple of Juniper trees were caught directly in the new construction's path. A kindhearted heavy equipment operator took the time to relocate the trees to a safer location. One lived, the other didn't. Before long, people began placing Christmas decorations on the surviving tree.
Since then, the tree has become a Western Colorado icon. It's notoriety even caught the attention of Charles Kuralt. Back in 1978, the tree was featured on an edition of "On The Road" on CBS Evening News.
Over the course of the following decades, there have a number of trees in that spot. Yes, it seems there have been a total of five trees occupying the famous location. That fact comes from former Delta county commissioner Ted Hayden.
There you go. According to various eye-witness accounts accompanied by a Bob Grant photo dated 1960, that tree, in one incarnation or another, has been there since at least 1960. The next time you drive U.S. Highway 50, keep an eye out for it. At the very least it will indicate you're roughly halfway to Delta. For those of us in broadcasting, the tree indicates where we need to turn left to head up to our transmitter sites on the Grand Mesa.