A crowd estimated near 1,200 came to Oro Valley Marketplace on a fittingly brisk Friday night to welcome the 85-foot blue spruce tree cut in Arizona’s White Mountains and bound for the U.S. Capitol.

The Capitol Christmas Tree, dubbed The People’s Tree, wasn’t easily visible. The tree cut near Alpine is covered by a tarp for its protection.

No matter. People began arriving at 4 p.m. for the long truck’s arrival. People lined up dozens deep to climb a small set of steps for a view inside. They came to have their pictures taken next to the truck, its tractor painted in patriotic hues. And they signed the tarp, which is covered with thousands of names and expressions.

“Merry Christmas, America,” one reads.

“Please do not sign this truck,” read a sign on an accompanying vehicle. The U.S. Forest Service has a contingent of volunteers helping transport the tree to its various stops in Arizona.

The audience listened to and watched performances by students, drank free water and ate free cookies, and purchased souvenirs sold by Forest Service employees. Ornaments, cards, tote bags, coffee mugs, hats, fleeces, posters, lapel pins and shirts moved briskly on a brisk night.

Arizona’s Gift, From the Grand Canyon State, is the first U.S. Capitol tree cut in Arizona. It is fitted with a plastic bladder filled with fresh water each night. It consumes about 65 gallons of water a day, and will do so during its three-week, 3,000-mile journey to Washington, D.C.

This tree is being called the Aldo Leopold Centennial Tree, marking the 100th anniversary of Leopold’s arrival at the Apache National Forest to work for the Forest Service. Leopold wrote “A Sand County Almanac,” and is widely regarded as a leader in conservation and land ethic.

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