Fans mourn the death of fa­mous “drive-thru” se­quoia in Cal­i­for­nia park


ARNOLD, Calif. — Joyce Brown was 12 when her par­ents first took her to visit the “drive-thru tree,” a giant se­quoia in Cal­i­for­nia fa­mous for a car-sized hole carved into the base of its trunk.

Brown thought she en­tered a land of giants as she walked un­der­neath and around the an­cient 100-foot-tall tree, which was top­pled by a mas­sive storm Sun­day.

“It’s kind of like some­one in the fam­ily has died,” said Brown, a 65-year-old re­tired mid­dle school teacher in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area who spends about a third of the year at her fam­ily’s cabin in Arnold, about 4 miles from where the now-fallen tree lies dead in Calav­eras Big Trees State Park.

Four gen­er­a­tions of Brown’s fam­ily have spent count­less hours at the tree and of­ten took out-of-town vis­i­tors there, some from as far away as Turkey.

In May 2015, she and her hus­band showed off the tree to John and Les­ley Rip­per, a Michi­gan cou­ple the Browns be­friended on an African sa­fari.

John Rip­per said he can’t be­lieve a storm felled such a mas­sive, sturdy-look­ing tree.

“In the blink of an eye, it’s gone,” he said. “There’s this giant tree every­one re­mem­bers, and it’s go­ing to be lay­ing there in plain sight. The dead giant.”

Sum­ner Craw­ford of Charleston, S.C., re­mem­bers ev­ery de­tail of his first visit to the tree as a kid in the early 1990s.

Craw­ford, now 36, was stunned by the se­quoia’s size: When his fam­ily of four tried to join hands around the tree they dis­cov­ered they couldn’t even come close.

Craw­ford re­cently vis­ited the tree again and re­lived those child­hood mem­o­ries.

“I feel like it’s part of my per­sonal his­tory. So it’s a bum­mer to see it go,” he said.

The tun­nel that made the tree fa­mous, and ul­ti­mately weak­ened it, was carved into its trunk in the 1880s to al­low tourists to pass through, first with horses and bug­gies and later with cars.

The tun­nel was lim­ited to pedes­tri­ans in re­cent decades.

The largest tree species in the world, se­quoias can reach di­am­e­ters up to 27 feet and have shal­low root sys­tems that make them vul­ner­a­ble to top­pling.

The drive-thru tree had a di­am­e­ter of 22 feet and was about 2,000 years old, said Tony Tealdi, a su­per­vis­ing ranger at Cal­i­for­nia State Parks.

When the al­ready mostly dead tree hit the ground Sun­day, it shat­tered and is now com­pletely un­rec­og­niz­able, said Jim All­day, a park vol­un­teer.

“It was ma­jes­tic,” he said. “Now it’s ba­si­cally a pile of rub­ble.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Cal­i­for­nia State Parks Su­per­vis­ing Ranger Tony Tealdi talks to re­porters Mon­day at the fallen Pi­o­neer Cabin tree at Calav­eras Big Trees State Park in Arnold, Calif.

Photo courtesy of MICHAEL BROWN via AP

John and Les­ley Rip­per pose in the Pi­o­neer Cabin tun­nel tree, a giant, cen­turies-old se­quoia that had a tun­nel carved into it in the 1880s, dur­ing a visit in May 2015 to Calav­eras Big Trees State Park near Arnold, Calif. The tree fell Sun­day dur­ing a mas­sive storm. “I was blown away,” said John Rip­per, a 55-year-old printer in Northville, Mich. “... that par­tic­u­lar tree and be­ing able to walk un­der­neath it and touch it was quite a mem­o­rable mo­ment and some­thing I won’t soon for­get.”

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