California storm topples famed 'drive-through' tunnel tree

An ancient giant sequoia tree with a hollowed-out tunnel big enough for cars to drive through, was toppled over the weekend by floods following a series of powerful rain storms in central and northern California.

Sequoia trees are known as the largest in the world by volume

The historic Pioneer Cabin Tree, named for the tunnel that was carved out of its base in the 1880s, came crashing down in Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County after stormy weather. (Michael Brown via Associated Press)

An ancient giant sequoia tree with a hollowed-out tunnel big enough for cars to drive through was toppled over the weekend by floods following a series of powerful rain storms in central and northern California.

The historic Pioneer Cabin Tree, named for the tunnel that was carved out of its base in the 1880s, came crashing down in Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County, a nonprofit group associated with the park said on Sunday.

The trail around the tree was flooded due to severe rain, and forecasters expect another 15 cm of rain to soak parts of California and the Sierra Nevada mountains through early Tuesday.

All that remains from the Pioneer Cabin tunnel tree. Park volunteer Joan Allday said the tree had been weakening and leaning severely to one side for several years. (Jim Allday via Associated Press)

"The Pioneer Cabin tree has fallen! This iconic and still living tree — the tunnel tree — enchanted many visitors," the Calaveras Big Trees Association said on its Facebook page. "The storm was just too much for it."
The tree was along a 2.4 km trail. Graffiti dating back to the 1800s were etched inside its tunnel walls. In recent years only hikers were allowed to pass through the tunnel, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Age of the tree unknown

People were walking through the tunnel as recently as Sunday morning before the tree came down, park volunteer Jim Allday told the San Francisco Chronicle. It fell around 2 p.m. local time and shattered on impact, he said.

"When I went out there [Sunday afternoon], the trail was literally a river. The trail is washed out," Allday told the 
newspaper. "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."

Two men use a rowboat to make their way through a flooded RV park on Monday near Forestville, Calif. A massive storm system forced people to evacuate after warnings that hillsides parched by wildfires could give way to mudslides. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

The age of the tree could not immediately be confirmed on Monday.

Giant sequoias can live for more than 3,000 years and are known as the largest trees in the world by volume, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

Not the 1st 'drive-through' tree to fall

The sequoia likely fell because of a combination of the flood waters and a shallow root system, the Chronicle said.

The tree was an icon that captivated the park's 200,000 annual visitors. Thousands of Facebook users commented on the Calaveras Big Trees Association's posts about the tree, sharing memories and photos.

Another famous "drive-through" tree, the Wawona Tunnel Tree in Yosemite National Park, fell during the winter of 1969.


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