RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Roadside Marvels

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Shoe Tree in Amherst, New York
Sneakers only, please, on this tree in East Amherst, New York
Shoe Trees—Icons of the American Road

We aren't sure, but it's beginning to look impossible to take an American road trip without passing a shoe tree. Our first sighting was the spreading tamarisk on California Highway 62, a footwear display supplied by those who use the road to get to the Colorado River from Los Angeles.

At the time, we thought the phenomenon was something unique, but that was before pictures and reports started coming our way, educating us that shoe trees grace roadsides in Oregon, New York, and an apparently increasing number of spots in between.

Shoe Tree on US Highway 50
The Middlegate Shoe Tree on US Highway 50 in Nevada gets a new offering.

Man-made wonder!
The Athena Shoe Tree

An Impressive Pair!
The Mitchell Shoe Trees

Shoes by the Railroad
The Amboy Shoe Tree

Mementos at Boots Creek
The Boots Creek Sign

Route 66 cousin: Shoe Tree in Oklahoma photographed in January, 2004 by Jennifer Bremer

Nevada is home to a stately cottonwood near the town of Middlegate on US Highway 50, "the loneliest highway in America." Since it's the only tree of any size for miles around, perhaps its decorations are not surprising. Look for a shoe tree on US Highway 395 south of Lakeview, Oregon, and save some Keds if you're heading for East Amherst, near Buffalo, New York. The shoe tree there appears to allow offerings of sneakers only.

Highway 187 outside Beaver, Arkansas, boasted another specialty shoe tree until the heavy rainstorms of May 6, 2000, came along. The deluge knocked down a seventy-year-old white oak heavily laden with running shoes. Fortunately, other trees in the vicinity have started sporting footwear in the old oak's memory, and styles have expanded to include boots and fashion shoes.

It might be possible to extract deep cultural meaning from shoe trees. Maybe all those swaying sneakers have spiritual significance, like Nepalese prayer flags. We don't believe it, though. Our theory is that shoe trees are a challenge. Once you see a pair of shoes dangling from a tall branch, it's hard not to grab your own pair, tie them together, and aim higher. And if you're somewhere like "the loneliest highway in America," there's no one around to call you silly.

There's also no one around to accuse you of littering, which brings us to more profound questions. Are shoes trees art? Are old shoes litter if they don't hit the ground? Ponder all this on your next road trip, and -- in case you decide to become part of a roadside phenomenon -- take an extra pair of shoes.

Megan Edwards
July 31, 2005

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