The Death of a Centuries Old Giant
A giant toppled over the last weekend. The towering Pioneer Cabin Tree at the Big Trees State Park in California fell over in a winter storm. The giant was estimated to be one of the few centuries old sequoia trees, but was most famous for its distinctive feature: a tunnel through its trunk.
The giant, centuries-old sequoia had a tunnel carved into it 137 years ago. A hole in the Pioneer Cabin Tree came from an earlier fire, and was expanded into a complete tunnel in the 1880s. Early 19th-century photos show people standing and sitting within the cabin-size cavity.
Similar drive-through trees were created amid groves of coastal redwoods and giant sequoia near the West Coast in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. A novelty to attract tourism, the carved tunnels visually emphasized the colossal size of the trees.
The largest tree species in the world, some giant sequoia trees reach diameters of as much as 8.2 metres. The Pioneer Cabin Tree stood approximately 30.48 metre tall and was 6.7 metre in diameter at breast height.
While effective in building tourist enthusiasm, tunnels were terrible for the trees, weakening their stability. Park volunteers said that the tree had been weakening and leaning severely to one side for several years. Before the fall, only hikers were being allowed through the tunnel.
"When I went out there [Sunday afternoon], the trail was literally a river, the trail is washed out,” park volunteer Jim Allday said. “I could see the tree on the ground, it looked like it was laying in a pond or lake with a river running through it.”
California, Nevada and other parts of the West are set to face even more flooding, mudslides and heavy snow as winter storms continue to pound the region. The National Weather Service has said that "Relentless rain and snow over much of the Western US will be reinvigorated by another powerful storm moving onshore late Tuesday."
The Pioneer Cabin Tree is likely to remain on the forest floor. The Calaveras Big Trees Association stated that it will offer a “habitat for many creatures … slowly decomposing to improve the soil for future sequoias.”
Few of the original tunnel trees are left. The image of the goliath tree presiding over the roadway will remain an iconic part of the visual culture of American tourism. A symbol of human progress and environmental beauty.