Northern California’s famed Pioneer Cabin Tree, a giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park that was carved out to form a tunnel big enough to drive through, fell down during a recent rainstorm, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGATE. The tree had been a tourist destination for more than a century.
In the late 19th century, the owners of the Calaveras North Grove carved out the tunnel in the tree in response to a similar tree tunnel in Yosemite that was drawing visitors away from Calaveras. The tree was chosen because a large fire scar already prevented a tree top from growing [PDF]. At one point, the park even allowed cars to drive through the tree, but recently only hikers have been allowed to pass through its trunk.
The tree toppled over around 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, January 8 during a heavy rainstorm. Sequoias have shallow roots, and the trail around it was completely flooded, likely resulting in its fall. The tree "shattered" on impact, according to a park volunteer who witnessed the incident.
It’s not that unusual for giant sequoias to fall over unexpectedly, especially in soggy ground. In 2011, two giant sequoia trees, each around 1500 years old, fell over along the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, destroying that section of the trail. The Yosemite tunnel tree that sparked the carve-out of the Calaveras tree in the 1880s, the Wawona Tunnel Tree, collapsed in 1969. The Los Angeles Times reports that most old sequoias die by falling, especially when wet soil combines with their extreme weight to tip over an already-leaning tree. The Pioneer Cabin Tree had been leaning for several years prior to its fall.