Arizona balladeer sings of 'Scrubby,' holidays, nostalgia

Arizona balladeer sings of 'Scrubby,' holidays, nostalgia

By Laurie Merrill / ADOT Communications
December 15, 2021

Days of yore, holiday drives to grandma’s house and Arizona highways are among the topics that Dolan Ellis, Arizona’s official State Balladeer, has captured in his songs about the state.  

“Historians write the history, but balladeers bring it to life,” Dolan said during a visit to ADOT, when the agency’s Video Team recorded his rich baritone as he performed three of his ballads, "Scrubby," "Rock Springs" and "I-10 Highway."

Two of these songs have ties to the holiday season, making this a good time to revisit and share Ellis' melodies.


While we’re not certain of Scrubby’s condition these days, for more than three decades, the cedar tree in the median of Interstate 17 at Sunset Point has thrilled passersby with holiday finery secretly applied in the middle of the night. With its glowing lights, ornaments and tinsel, it has become a shining beacon of seasonal spirit for motorists.

Perhaps no Arizonan has captured this mystery better than Ellis in this ode to an evergreen. It begins:

Out in Arizona there’s a story to be told. 
Of Scrubby, the little cedar tree, that grows beside the road. 
I-17 to Flagstaff, from the desert down below, 
And a random act of kindness by some secret, caring soul. 

It brings a smile to every face that passes by that sight. 
Scrubby becomes a rock star, and for him this song I write. 

 “Rock Springs” 

In the mid-1950s, it could take eight hours to travel by car from Flagstaff to Phoenix. This song, written by Dean Cook, Lon Austin, and Tony Norris, is about family’s holiday trip to Phoenix, with the children, the dog and grandma's tree in the back – before Interstate 17 Black Canyon Freeway was completed in 1978. 

"Rock Springs" tells of a meandering route through Oak Creek Canyon, the Cleopatra Mine, Mayer and Bumble Bee. Much of this was along the Old Black Canyon Highway, scratched out of the 1878 Black Canyon stagecoach trail. It begins:  

It was snowing up in Flagstaff but we knew that the desert would be hot. 
So we crawled beneath the blankets. The dog always got the warmest spot, woof woof. 
It was 2 days to Christmas and we crawled into the back of dad’s old truck. 
Eight hours down to Phoenix -- if we didn’t run out of water, tires or luck. 

“I-10 Highway”

This song is a nostalgic journey, as Ellis recalls a trip along Interstate 10 to Tucson, where he passes farmers and reminisces about a sense of community and purpose. He also waxes historic about the instantly-recognizable Picacho Peak. 

It begins: 

Arizona I-10 Highway, there’s a trucker going my way, play a tune in the afternoon with a guitar that I carry on my back. 
I can see the sign to Tucson, from the freeway that I ride on, telling me all the sights to see down in Tucson, that are long gone with each puff from a diesel stack. 
As I pass the irrigation roads (and) crops some Pima farmer grows, folks flipping by like the pages of a worn-out history book. 
And the story that it seems to tell the pride of his work in a job done well and the cooperation of a reservation full of neighbors and the labors of his people (that it took).  

Ellis has been writing and performing songs about Arizona, its people, heritage, culture, wildlife and beauty, since 1959. Learn more about the State Balladeer, by reading these blog posts: 

Arizona's official balladeer celebrates I-17 Mystery Tree

State balladeer croons nostalgic over 'I-10 Highway'

State balladeer sings of drive from Flagstaff

Learn more about Ellis, his performance schedule, history and songs at You can also learn about the Arizona Folklore Preserve in Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, which Ellis founded to preserve songs celebrating Arizona’s western heritage and culture, at