An 85-foot blue spruce soon will embark on a long journey from the mountains of northeastern Arizona to Washington, D.C., to stand as the Capitol Christmas tree.
The 7,000-pound tree that is taller than a seven-story building will be harvested Saturday. From Alpine, it will go on a statewide tour before arriving at the Capitol on Nov. 30.
The tradition of having states provide a Capitol Christmas tree started nearly 40 years ago. This is the first year the tree will come from Arizona.
"It's a great way to help educate Arizonans and the nation on what resources Arizona has," said Rick Davalos, project coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service. "It's been a long time coming."
Harvesting the tree that was chosen for its height, color, fullness and lack of obvious defects is no small feat. It will take a mechanized cutter, two cranes with a 110-foot reach, and about an hour to lay it on a specially designed set of cradles.
The public can watch from about 150 feet away.
The tree was sprayed with a moisture retainer earlier this week and is expected to drink hundreds of gallons of water through a rubber bladder bag that will be placed at the trunk's end. Burlap covering the tree also will help extend its life, Davalos said.
Arizonans won't be able to see the tree in its entirety during the statewide tour that will include about 25 stops. Its branches will be pulled in and bound, and the tree will be encased in a vinyl cover to protect it from road salts, oils and freezing weather.
"If we don't, it will get freezer burn and drop all its needles," Davalos said.
Arizonans can peek through a window of the lighted case and see the top of the tree. Celebrations at stops in Arizona will include parades, Christmas caroling and speeches by state dignitaries.
Davalos, who has taken a break from his duties as a forest ranger, traveled to Montana last year to witness the selection and cutting of the 2008 Capitol Christmas tree.
Once Arizona's tree reaches the Capitol grounds, it will take about a week to decorate it with 10,000 lights and 5,000 ornaments made by Arizona schoolchildren.
For Jim Payne, a spokesman for the Forest Service's Southwestern region, being part of the project will be a highlight of his career. Payne, who is retiring in January after 35 years with the Forest Service, jokes that he grew out his white beard for the occasion and is serving as Santa's helper.
"My last project is something that is a lot of work, but it gives me an opportunity to do something I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said.