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California storm topples landmark tunnel tree

The “Pioneer Cabin Tree” stood with a hole in its base for nearly 140 years

A photo of the sequoia with a tunnel for cars carved through it in Calaveras County, before it was toppled. NX17

California came away from this weekend’s ten-year storm soaked and rattled and with some not insignificant property damage in some areas, but by and large intact.

With one very big exception.

Down in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, about 55 miles east of Stockton, the storm blew down a towering sequoia tree of indeterminate age that had long sported a tunnel at its base big enough to drive through.

A photo posted by SuzSo (@suzso) on

Back in 1880, when what’s now public park was private land, the owner carved the tunnel as a means of attracting tourists.

You can see the fallen giant as it appeared pre-tunneling here.

Note that this is not the famed Wawona tree in Yosemite. Rather, the so-called Pioneer Cabin Tree in Calaveras was an imitator capitalizing on the popularity of that other, nearby tunnel.

That Yosemite tree collapsed in 1969.

Nor is that the OTHER Yosemite tunnel tree, the one in Tuolumne Grove—that one still stands, although it’s dead anyway.

There’s also one in Sequoia National Park, though it fell over before the tunneling.

Obviously, cutting enormous holes through the base of ancient sequoias isn’t good for them, but the Pioneer Cabin Tree endured for nearly 140 years years even with the damage done.

The Calaveras Big Trees Association, a non-profit conservationist group, reported the felling on their Facebook page Sunday. The busted remains are almost unrecognizable, though the informative kiosk detailing the tree’s history still stands next to it.

The tree’s exact age remains a mystery, but estimates put it at at least 1,000 years of age.

A photo posted by Katie Senft (@kjsenft) on