The historic Pioneer Cabin Tunnel Tree in Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County California fell during heavy rains around 2pm on Sunday (1/08/2017).
Inspired by the popularity of the Yosemite Wawona tunnel tree, the Historic Pioneer Cabin tunnel tree was hollowed out in the 1880s to allow tourists to pass through it. Recently, the tunnel had been closed to motor vehicles, allowing hikers only to pass through the giant Sequoia. The tree itself was estimated to be over 1,000 years old (Sequoia trees can live over 3,000 years) and boasted a circumference of 33 feet.
There was no immediate word on what caused the tree to fall, but it’s speculated that a shallow root system, flooding, and the tunnel itself had a hand in its demise.
Although the tree’s fall came as a surprise to Calaveras County and the rest of the United States, it didn’t come as a big surprise to park volunteers and rangers. Recently a park guide noted that “Because of the huge cut, this tree can no longer support the growth of a top, which you can see lying on the ground if you walk through the tunnel.”
According to SFGate, Volunteer Joan Allday also told reporters that “It was barely alive, there was one branch alive at the top” she said. “But it was very brittle and starting to lift.”
Thousands of people have been sharing their memories and photos of the Pioneer Cabin tree tunnel on the Calaveras Big Trees Association post announcing the fall. With over 2.2k comments and 15k shares as of Monday afternoon, this iconic tree will not soon be forgotten.
History Of Sequoia Tunnel Trees
Tunnel trees were carved throughout the late 1800s to promote parks and inspire tourism. But as anyone in the environmental industry can tell you, cutting a tunnel through a living sequoia or any tree for that matter, damages it.
“Tunnel trees had their time and place in the early history of our national parks,” the National Park Service has written. “But today sequoias which are standing healthy and whole are worth far more.”
Still want to drive through a tree tunnel?
According to the National Park Service, there are three drive-through coastal redwood trees (not giant sequoia) along the “Avenue of the Giants” in California. All drive-throughs are owned by private businesses, which charge a small fee to drive your car through the tree.
Still feel the need to drive through a Sequoia Tree?
There are no standing Sequoia Tree Tunnels left but visitors to Sequoia and Kings Canyon can drive through a fallen Sequoia “Tunnel Log” located along Crescent Meadow Road in the Giant Forest.