Wild storm topples iconic giant tree with drive-through tunnel

A historic California redwood tree that once hosted vehicle traffic ends its days Sunday at the hands of a wild storm.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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The Pioneer Cabin Tree in earlier days.

Library of Congress

There once was a giant old sequoia tree with a tunnel in the center so big you could drive a car through it. It sounds like a tall tale, but it was real. That tree, called the Pioneer Cabin Tree, fell over the weekend at California's Calaveras Big Trees State Park during a massive storm.

The tree stood out among the other giants due to a large tunnel carved through its base in the 1800s. A Library of Congress photo dating back to around 1886 shows a horse and carriage passing through the tree. In modern times, the park has only allowed foot traffic.

According to SFGate, the tree fell Sunday afternoon and shattered on impact. The powerful storm that took out the tree toppled many others, even halting interstate traffic south of San Francisco for more than an hour Sunday afternoon with a giant tree that fell across half the freeway.

Big Trees State Park visitors are now eulogizing the famous tree on the Calaveras Big Trees Association Facebook page. It had been a popular stop for family photo ops.

"I cannot believe one of California's icons will no longer be there for all of us. We have a photo with my dad about 1930 and then one of me about 1955 and then one with my hubby about 1980 or so. Sad days," Facebook user Wendy Craft writes.

According to the Calaveras Big Trees Association, the Pioneer Cabin Tree was still alive when it fell. Giant sequoias, also known as Sierra redwoods, can top 300 feet (91 meters) in height with diameters over 30 feet (9 meters). In the historic Pioneer Cabin photo, the tree sports a sign reading "diameter 32 feet."