"While cultural anthropologists trumpet the aggregated populist statement of the gum tree or the gob rock, we believe Shoe Trees soar to greater heights." -RoadsideAmerica.com

I know that there are a lot other tragedies happening in the world right now, but it did strike me that Nevada’s famous shoe tree was cut down by vandals sometime around New Year’s Eve. The Middlegate Shoe Tree was located in the middle of Nevada off of highway 50 as was considered the largest “Shoe Tree” in the world. A Shoe Tree is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a large tree with thousands of shoes tossed upon its boughs. There are perhaps hundreds of shoe trees in the country and I’ve seen about 3 of them; one was located on 395 on the way to Mammoth Mountain, another near Amboy, California. Every one of them has a story behind it and its always a strange one.
Road Oddi-trees.
The Legend of the Middlegate Shoe Tree

The Middlegate Shoe Tree was commissioned sometime in the 1990’s and was the result of a newlywed dispute. A couple was traveling across Nevada from Colorado on their honeymoon. I'm sure that driving for long periods of time can be difficult on a new marriage and they got into a marital dispute in the middle of Nevada. As things began to escalate, the husband somehow seized his new wife’s shoes and said something to the effect of “If leave me, you’re going to have walk barefoot!!!” He then chucked her shoes upon that cottonwood tree and drove away in a fury. In his anger, he consulted the local marriage counselor of Middlegate, Nevada who gave him some sound advice. In a couple of hours, that kindly bartender convinced the disgruntled husband to return to his wife and work it out without the shoe tossing. He humbly returned to the tree where his wife was still waiting (Its central Nevada, where else would she go?) and they resolved their differences and harmoniously continued upon their Californian Odyssey.
Walking barefoot on this highway? Not an option.
I'm sure they lived happily ever after... but they decided to start a family tradition and returned a year later to toss the shoes of their first born baby upon the same tree. Drivers upon that section of Nevada's Highway 50 decided to continue the tradition and before long, the shoe tree had a large amount of footwear hanging from its elegant boughs. Central Nevada can be a pretty lonely place but on this section of Highway 50 it was quite common to see other travelers continuing this tradition by throwing their own shoes upon that cottonwood tree.

A Symbol of Road Culture

Unfortunately, the "Largest Shoe Tree in the World" was cut down which I find very saddening. Shoe trees and other road-oddities are all part of American road-culture. This "culture" has had a distinctive, adventurous and quirky spirit which has been present since the first road travelers headed westwards on Route 66. Most of it stems from the spirit of long distance traveling and a simple desire to see the wilder side of the country. Road culture includes a lot of strange music, literature, poetry, small towns and Kerouac-inspired people. Yet who among us doesn't dream of going on an epic cross country journey, studying abroad, or backpacking across Europe? Maybe that's just me, but seeing even the quirkiest of sights is all a part of the joyful experience of traveling. So, maybe the disappearance of the Middlegate cottonwood won't exactly change the world or cause a national "Shoe-Tree Awareness" program, but I'm sure the Middlegate Shoe Tree will be missed by us hitch-hiking, road-lovin' ramblers. There was an actual memorial held for its loss this month and I don't doubt that it was attended by other weird adventure-addicts like me. But hey... there's still plenty of weird to be seen out on the road, isn't there?