It feels like the end of an era, after receiving the news on 8 January 2017, since the iconic Sequoia ‘Tunnel Tree’ has gone down in history as it was brought to the ground by a violent storm that hit California.
The Tunnel Tree was part of the Calaveras Big Trees State and was counted among the most famous trees across the United States. For over a century, it enchanted the hearts of the park’s visitors. It is estimated that the gigantic tree was older than 1,000 years and measured 10 meters in diameter.
“The Pioneer Cabin Tree has fallen! This iconic and still living tree – the tunnel tree – enchanted many visitors. The storm was just too much for it,” reads a status update at The Calaveras Big Trees Association’s page on Facebook on Sunday. The sequoia tree was grandeur, which allowed it to claim such an iconic status.
Reports suggest that in the past couple of years, the tree was barely alive, having only one branch alive at the top. The storm on Sunday, which is considered to be the strongest one to hit the area in over a decade, had apparently been too much for the tree. Flooding and the shallow root system of the gigantic tree are most likely to be the reasons for why the tree fell.
The Tunnel Tree had been among the most popular sites of the state park ever since the late 19th century. Also known as the Pioneer Cabin Tree, it got its name for its distinctive hollow trunk, partially burnt after a forest fire. It had small compartments much like in a log cabin, burnt core as a chimney, and a small opening as a backdoor.
During the 1870’s, its compartments were fused into a tunnel so that tourists could pass through it. This particular tree was selected as it already had large forest fire scars. However, this enabled the tree to compete for attention with the Yosemite’s Wawona Tree and to attract more tourists to the park.
Since the 1880’s, park visitors were encouraged to inscribe their names into the tree, but the practice was stopped during the 1930’s in order to preserve it.
The trail through the tree was initially for pedestrians only. Later on, automobiles could also drive through as part of the “Big Trees Trail.” It was one of the few “drive-through” trees within the area of California. The trail was kept open to hikers only afterward.
A report by the United States Forest Service, as of 1900, suggests that the tree was 85 meters tall. Bearing in mind its glorious past, it really is like the end of an epoch.
So long, old friend!