A tunnel was cut into the Pioneer Cabin Tree in the 1880s to compete for attention with Yosemite's Wawona Tree. (Photo: NX1Z (talk)/Wikimedia Commons)
After more than 1,000 years of standing tall in what is now known as Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California, the iconic "Pioneer Cabin" giant sequoia is no more.
The massive tree, which until recently allowed motorists to pass through a tunnel carved into its trunk, was toppled by a powerful storm that swept through the state over the weekend. "This iconic and still living tree — the tunnel tree — enchanted many visitors," officials for the park wrote on Facebook in announcing the news. "The storm was just too much for it."
The shattered remains of the Pioneer Cabin tree as photographed Jan. 8 by a park employee. (Photo: Calaveras Big Trees Association)
The Pioneer Cabin tree received its iconic (and ultimately detrimental) tunnel in 1880, when the land surrounding it was in private hands and the owner was eager to boost tourism. The massive opening in the 32-foot-wide diameter trunk was carved into an existing fire scar, which you can see in the photo below.
This photograph, estimated to have been taken sometime between 1864-1874, shows the Pioneer Cabin tree before the tunnel was added. (Photo: Lawrence & Houseworth/Wikimedia)
Unfortunately, removing a massive piece of the tree's trunk rapidly hastened its decline.
“Because of the huge cut, this tree can no longer support the growth of a top, which you can see lying on the ground if you walk through the tunnel,” the park website states. "The opening also has reduced the ability of the tree to resist fire. A few branches bearing green foliage tell us that this tree is still managing to survive."
This ill-informed tourism stunt was repeated several times during the late 19th and 20th centuries as the age the automobile increased visitation to the nation's parks. Notable giants included the Wawona Tree, which collapsed in 1969, and the still-standing Klamath Tree in Northern California. Fortunately, these types of gaping cuts are no longer performed on living giants.
While the Pioneer Cabin tree is no more, its memory lives on in the dozens of tourist videos captured before its demise. You can get a glimpse of what it was like to walk through the tree after a winter snowfall in the video below.