Severe storms last week claimed a famous victim: a giant sequoia known as the “tunnel tree” or the “Pioneer Cabin Tree,” was toppled by flooding and winds. The iconic tree was known to generations as one of a few giant trees with a large tunnel carved through it’s trunk. Back in the 1880s, these tunnels were cut to originally let horses and wagons pass through. The large sequoia, a species which is estimated to be able to live thousands of years, continued to thrive despite what had been done. Cars were still able to pass through the trees until recently when it was restricted to only hikers.
The tree was one of many of the giant sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park located just southeast of Sacramento. This tree was one of the last of the living tunnel-tree sequoias, the rest of them have either toppled over and died within the last few decades. One famous tree, the Wawona tree in Yosemite, fell in 1969 during a storm as well. It was estimated to be at least 2,100 years old. Three other tunnel trees still exist in California, but they are carved out of coastal redwoods and are owned and managed by private land owners.
According to the National Park Services, giant sequoia trees are very durable and disease resistant. Storms are one of the few things that can actually cause them to fall. They are also very resistant to fire and, in fact, seem to become resilient after fires. They also need fire to help them reproduce by preparing the soil with minerals and reducing competition. These trees grow to be some of the largest trees in the world with the largest tree being the “General Sherman Tree” which is 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter.