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California, the famous giant sequoia Pioneer Cabin Tree has collapsed

It was the icon of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park: the drive-through ancient sequoia, with a tunnel running through it, was felled by the bad weather that hit the region recently.

The tallest living beings of the planet, giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), live in northern California. These peaceful giants, whose origins date back to the Mesozoic era, grow up to a height of 90 metres, 10 metres in diameter and can weigh as many as 3,000 tonnes.

Sequoia Yosemite park
Sequoias grow along the coast of California, from Big Sur to the border with Oregon © MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Pioneer Cabin Tree collapse

One of the most famous of these wooden colossuses, called Pioneer Cabin Tree, 45 metres tall, was toppled last Sunday by a fierce storm. The sequoia (estimated to be more than 1,000-years-old) was the icon of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and was famous because a drive-through tunnel was carved into it. This reprehensible act dates back to the year 1880 at the hands of a hotel manager who wanted to allow the passage of horses and coaches, and later of cars. Then the tree became an attraction for hikers. It’s really difficult to understand why people, instead of looking at these creatures with the deference they deserve, decided to carve a tunnel into them just for tourism.

The giant was killed by the tunnel and by a storm

The heavy rain and gusts of wind of the past days in California and Nevada gave the majestic tree the finishing blow, even though it was condemned to die more than a century ago when the tunnel was carved into it. Indeed just one half of the sequoia was alive, its roots were too shallow and the trunk was very fragile.

drive-through tree
In the 19th century carving tunnels into the trees was very common in the US parks, to promote tourism. The Pioneer Cabin Tree was one of the last living testimonies of this senseless and harmful practice © Katherine Young/Getty Images

Grief for the tree

The Calaveras Big Trees Association announced the collapse of the tree in a Facebook post that drew many comments and shares, demonstrating the important role these huge trees play in the collective imagination. “It’s kind of like someone in the family has died – a teacher from San Francisco, Joyce Brown, said. – I was 12 when my parents first took me to visit the “drive-thru tree and I thought I had entered a land”.

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