Drive-thru Trees

Posted on 28 March 2014

Tunnel TreeHow long have Californians been driving through trees? It began in 1881, when a stagecoach company cut a passageway through a giant sequoia in Mariposa Grove—never mind that the grove was part of Yosemite National Park. The result, the Wawona Tunnel Tree, became one of the most recognizable plants in the world, and one of the leading attractions in California. Tourists paid to pass through the bole, and bought souvenirs such as penknives fashioned from the tree’s former core. The tunnel ride proved to be so popular that the stagecoach company bored through a second fire-damaged sequoia, the California Tree, in 1895. (In copycat fashion, the private owners of Calaveras Big Tree Grove—now a state park—gouged though the Pioneer Cabin Tree.) Even after the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, rangers did not close Yosemite’s drive-thru sequoias.

Wawona Tunnel Tree

In 1932 the Park Service realigned the road in Mariposa Grove around the California Tree (which to this day survives as a walk-through tree). Bowing to popular demand, the rangers continued to allow vehicular access through the Wawona Tunnel Tree (seen above). Finally, the celebrity tree buckled and fell in the winter of 1968–69. The site survives in hazy memory, however. “Where’s the tree you can drive through?” remains one of the most frequently asked questions at Sequoia National Park. From the Sierra Nevada, it’s a long trip: all of the remaining drivable drive-thru trees are privately-owned tourist traps in coast redwood habitat. Of these, the most famous is the Chandelier Tree at Drive-Thru Tree Park in Mendocino County:

Chandelier Tree

Drive-thru Tree salt and pepper Shakers

(For a detailed history of sequoias and redwoods, see part 1 of my book Trees in Paradise.)

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