Images: Shoes in a Tree | Mojave Desert, California

On the long road that cuts through the Mojave Desert in Southern California, there are a variety of cacti, twisted Joshua trees and the very rare desert tortoise. South of Mojave National Preserve and north of Joshua Tree National Park there is a toppled tree on the side of the road that is just a bit more colorful and notable than others. I’m not sure if this particular tree is known by any particular name, but I’ve come to call it the shoe tree.

I’d love to know the shoe tree’s story. Who threw the first shoe onto the tree? Was it intentional or did someone throw a shoe out a moving car window in frustration? Now covered in hundreds of flip-flops and tennis shoes, hiking boots and slippers, the shoe tree has become a collection of wearable graffiti. Some shoes are worn with peeling soles and tattered laces. Others look new enough to sell in a second-hand shop. All of them, in some way, have a story to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

27 Responses to “Images: Shoes in a Tree | Mojave Desert, California”

  1. Gray

    That is wild! I’ve never seen anything like that before. Someone must know the genesis of the shoe tree. I bet it’s an interesting story.

    Reply
  2. Keith

    Loved this, especially the pic with the proposal graffiti.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      The proposal really got me. I felt bad for the guy who felt the need to bare his soul on a shoe.

      Reply
  3. Shannon OD

    Oh that poor man who proposed and then wrote his woe on a shoe! Love the photos and the stories they tell!

    Reply
  4. Candice

    That’s so freaking cool, I’ve never seen anything like it.

    Reply
  5. joshywashington

    what a beautiful expression, beautifully expressed.
    Isn’t it funny how these things begin, garbage into poetry.

    Reply
  6. Leland

    if u drive from bend, oregon to baker, oregon you will pass at least 2 shoe trees….last saw them the end of may 2003….they do beg a lot of answers for a host of questions about them…thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Will definitely need to make that drive to check that out some day. Isn’t it funny how they become iconic?

      Reply
  7. Anil

    I love how these seemingly random “monuments” evolve out of nowhere. I too wonder what the original story behind it is – whose was the first shoe and where did the second one come from to start the tradition…

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Anil ~ I almost wonder if the first shoe was an accident. It would be strange to think that someone deliberately set out to create a shoe tree.

      Reply
  8. Trisha

    Beautiful photo-essay! I’ve driven past this shoe tree a few times, and I’ve always wondered about the stories behind the shoes themselves. What compels people to leave their shoes there? It would make for an interesting short film.

    I wonder too if you ever got down to Hogs & Heifers in the meat packing district in NYC – similar, but nearly so interesting, are the bras women leave behind (I’ve left a couple). I think the only story behind them is a few too many drinks. πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Nope, never made it to Hogs & Heifers, but I’m sure there are a few stories that have been built in that bar, even if the basis for them revolves around a few too many shots. πŸ™‚

      Reply
  9. Margo

    that is amazing. I would love to see that! I would wonder the same thing: who started it? I wonder too if they’ve been back to see it!

    Reply
  10. Abi from Inside the Travel Lab

    I love these quirky traditions – and you’ve written about this one beautifully. Thanks for helping my Sunday morning get off to such a good start!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I’m glad you enjoyed it Abi! Thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  11. Lisa Bergren

    Fascinating! Reminds me of a Christmas tree I pass in the middle of a yawning valley of Montana–will try to stop and catch a pic this summer on the way home! (Tho the shoes are far more interesting…)

    Reply
  12. Caroline in the City

    I saw something like this near Charleston, SC called the Edisto Island Mystery Tree. It has a bunch of random junk on it but it’s in the middle of a marsh so no one knows how it gets there.

    Reply
  13. Dyfrig

    Just driven passed the shoe tree today – with my family. The shoes are on one tree and socks on another. My wife and I and our two daughters – 15 and 12, were amazed. It looked different and you are all right, with hidden stories to tell. Amazing place, if a bit on the hot side for us Welsh people from Wales, UK. Let us know if a reason comes to light. Though I like the idea, that there doesn’t have to be a reason. Things happen, people connect. Great.

    Reply
  14. Clark Aungst

    These “Shoe Trees” have their genesis in a really bad movie starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. The one in Mojave Desert is really sort of a “Shoe Bush”. The best one that I have seen is 2 miles north of Bordertown, Nevada along Highway 395.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for letting me know about the legitimate shoe tree near Bordertown. I’ll have to look for it if I’m ever out that way!

      Reply
  15. louise

    Today I saw the one near Bordertown, really amazing!
    Like to know which (bad) movie Clark is referring to.

    Reply
    • clark

      The bad movie was “Wag the Dog”.

      Reply
  16. Karen Sheehan

    The first time i saw the tree it was upright and alive. Adorned in shoes. I had heard it was related to an old song.

    Reply

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