Last weekend, a windstorm wrecked parts of California and Nevada toppling the iconic “Pioneer Cabin Tree” — perhaps better known as the tree you could drive through.
The Pioneer Cabin Tree was a giant sequoia with a defining trait: a tunnel carved into the trunk more than a century ago. Over the years, the pass-through saw travelers on foot, on horseback and in cars. Most recently, only hikers have been allowed to trek back and forth under the arboreal behemoth.
Sequoias are notorious for their size, with some growing as tall as an average 26-story building and exceeding the width of a city street in girth. Growing from a tiny seedling to massive size takes time; it is estimated that all of the trees in Calaveras State Park, home to the Pioneer Cabin Tree, are over 1,000 years old.
While not the only tunnel tree in the Park, the Pioneer was the most authentic to its time. The concept of tunnel trees came about in the 19th century to promote parks and inspire tourism. But, of course, cutting a tunnel through a living sequoia causes damage to the tree. Other tunnel trees that remain from the period are either dead or consist of logs bolstering their sides for support. The Pioneer was still living and its tunnel was structurally intact.
Park volunteers reported that the winter storms toppled the Pioneer, and that it shattered when it hit the ground late Sunday afternoon. As recently as Sunday morning, visitors to the Park had walked through its tunnel. The Calaveras Big Tree Association wrote on Facebook: “This iconic and still living tree – the tunnel tree – enchanted many visitors. The storm was just too much for it.”
Cover Image: Tom Purcell/Flickr