© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pioneer Cabin Tree, Giant Sequoia With Tunnel, Toppled By Storm


Storms in California have toppled one of the most photographed trees in history. The giant sequoia known as the Pioneer Cabin Tree fell over after lashing winds and rain rolled through the Sierra Nevada. John Sepulvado of member station KQED in San Francisco reports.

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: In the 1800s and early 20th century, marketing for American tourists basically went like this - find something grand, show it to people, then watch the tourists flock. While Niagara had roaring falls and Florida had crystal clear springs, California had its giant sequoias.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And other ages produced the giant redwoods, oldest living thing. They have watched the centuries pass and generations of men from the Stone Age to the automobile. One is so huge, it spans a road with ample clearance for a car.

SEPULVADO: Of course, redwoods don't naturally have tunnels in them. That's what makes the pioneer cabin tree so unique. The tree was 33 feet in diameter. And in the 1880s, the owner of the Redwood Grove hired two guys to start sawing into it.

TONY TEALDI: The tree already had a sizable hole, but he made it look like a cabin.

SEPULVADO: Which is how it got the name Pioneer Cabin Tree, says Tony Tealdi. He's the supervising ranger of California State Parks, and he says a Yosemite redwood was tunneled first - that tree is called Wawona.

TEALDI: And so the private owner at that time wanted to compete with the Wawona tree - with Yosemite - and getting visitors to his tree.

SEPULVADO: There are pictures of Model T's driving through the Pine Cabin Tree. And long before selfie sticks, families took pictures huddled in the tunnel. Yet, the hole weakened the tree, and the storm - combined with a shallow root system - proved to be too much.

TEALDI: A lot of people are very sad and upset. It's been around since the mid-1880s, so generations of families have seen this tree.

SEPULVADO: Tealdi notes that today we would never hollow such a majestic tree, but the Pine Cabin Tree raised awareness for the redwoods. Meaning, in a way, the larger forest was able to be seen through that one ancient tree. For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDER SONG, "MILLION YEARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John's from Southern California. He attended Journalism School at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. John's reporting has earned four Edward R. Murrow awards for investigations, and he shared in a Peabody for CNN's Gulf Coast Oil-Spill Coverage. He has also won numerous other national and regional awards for his investigative and multimedia coverage.