The spirit of Christmas and the swell of Colorado pride was abundant at the First National Bank parking lot Friday, Nov. 9, as former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and the Capitol Christmas Tree rolled to a stop a little after 1 p.m.
The rain fell lightly at first before spitting a mixture of rain and snow that lasted for almost an hour. But that didn’t stop the swarm of people who came to witness the unique opportunity.
The near 200 residents stood with wet faces and cold hands as Campbell took the stage and spoke of his travels and the significance of the tree.
“This is not put on with taxpayers money,” he said. “Everything has been donated and contributed from Meeker and towns all over Colorado, right down to the gas for the truck.”
The 73-foot tall Engleman Spruce, which was cut down near Meeker in the White River National Forest, was covered but the 105-foot truck and trailer left plenty of room for “oohs” and “aahs.” The banners lining both sides of the flatbed were already covered with names and messages of other Colorado residents from where the tree had already stopped. After the former senator spoke, Cortez-area residents flocked to the tree, bringing their own messages.
The heavy snow in Montrose forced the senator and his posse to backtrack to Whitewater and come down through Gateway. The truck and trailer, state patrol and Forest Service vehicles, as well as Santa and Mrs. Claus, came in through Dove Creek instead of over Lizard Head Pass.
“That was OK though,” Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce Director, Dena Guttridge said cheerfully. “We got to bring their entourage through downtown and hopefully more people got to see them.”
Winter weather is always a concern in the mountains and Campbell said they were worried about the trip over Wolf Creek Pass.
The tree is scheduled to arrive in Washington D.C. and the Capitol shortly after Thanksgiving, and any delays or re-routing could put them behind schedule.
“The trip is long hours and unforeseen things,” Campbell said. But he is happy to be volunteering his time.
Campbell, who resides in Ignacio with his wife, said he got through his college days by driving a truck, and said he still does it from time to time. He has many towns ahead of him but has been inspired by the crowds of people supporting the trip.
Like Arlene Lang, a Towaoc resident. She visited with the former senator that afternoon and her mother and two kids were present for photographs.
“I think it’s great that people all over the country get to see the tree,” Lang said. “With Nighthorse supporting the effort and escorting it through the towns shows community involvement. I’m proud it (the tree) is coming from Meeker and our state. Plus it helps get everyone in the Christmas spirit.”
Santa and Mrs. Claus are from Meeker and will be traveling with the tree for the entire tour. “My husband has been Santa in Meeker for 45 years,” said Twila Morris, aka Mrs. Claus. “The trip has been great so far. Lots of crowds and camera flashes.”
Like Campbell, “Santa” and his wife are volunteering their time to complete the journey. They will go all the way to Washington, D.C. and be present for the tree lighting ceremony Capitol Hill.
“This is the People’s Tree,” Campbell said. “It isn’t going to the White House. It’s going to the Capitol.”
The tree will sit upon the west lawn of the Capitol and will be ornamented by children from all over Colorado. Until the spruce reaches its destination, Nighthorse Campbell and the tree’s entourage will continue to meet folks from across the country and share the celebration of Colorado’s natural beauty.