No one really knows how it started or why.
But a lonely, scraggly tree on the side of Mount Ord with a stunning view of Slate Creek and the Mazatzal Wilderness several years ago sprouted a pair of red running shoes, champagne stilettos fit for the prom, black combat boots and a pair of knee-high lace-ups.
Passers-by added dozens of other pairs, most well worn and with plenty of miles underfoot.
In early June, it all came crashing down. The trunk of the dead tree snapped off a foot from its base and the branches flopped to one side. Officials don’t know if someone chopped the tree down or if it toppled naturally.
But as it lapses back into the earth, a new shoe tree is taking shape a few miles down the road.
For some motorists, the shoe tree seemed magical, others thought it ugly.
Turns out, shoe trees collect their strange tribute alongside highways all over the country.
One Web site details the location of trees in Alabama and Wyoming and every state in between.
Most start innocently enough, when someone flung a pair of shoes up and caught a branch. Others add their contributions, sometimes with hand scribbled poems, encouraging words or just an autograph.
Over time, the trees take on an identity and gain a following. Some call it folk art. Others just want to stop, stretch their legs and snap a photo.
When the shoe tree on Highway 87 fell down, it spurred an outcry on an ADOT blog site.
“The news of the tree being cut down is really upsetting,” wrote one person. “Did the tree ever hurt you?”
“Who cut down the tree?! HOW RUDE! Where did all of our shoes go?” wrote another person.
Still others were not so sympathetic.
“It’s like graffiti. When will it end? Are the people that put things on the tree think that we are dumb enough to think it is a work of ART? NO WAY!” wrote another person.
Most, however, expressed happiness at the sight of the tree.
One motorist said he had nicknamed it the non-judgmental tree because “it reminds me I have not walked the paths of these individuals, therefore I will expect the best and seek to understand and accept each individual I meet.”
Another said, “It’s kinda like the flash mob idea, random but planned, and it brings us together in an odd way. And, “The tree is dead or dying and it has a new life, to celebrate those whose feet have walked long miles.”
Soon after the tree fell, ADOT crews collected all of the shoes and stored them at the maintenance yard in Payson. After several weeks, when none were claimed, ADOT threw the shoes away.
“ADOT considered donating the shoes to a charity, but the shoes were very tattered and worn after being exposed to the weather elements for some time,” said Dustin Krugel, public information officer with ADOT Communications.
But it appears plenty of old shoes ready for their second life remain. Several miles south of the original shoe tree, on the west side of the highway, another tree has sprouted a few lost soles.