Last week we lost a drive-thru tree, the Pioneer Cabin Tree. The 280-foot Sequoia was brought down during a powerful storm. The tree’s shallow root system (2-4 feet) could not withstand the torrential rain and water running down the adjacent trail. Jim Allday, a volunteer at the park, believes the tree fell on Sunday, (Jan 5) and that it “shattered” on impact.

“I could see the tree on the ground, it looked like it was laying in a pond or lake with a river running through it,” he said.

Northern California is home to some of the oldest redwoods and sequoia trees in the world. These ancient trees can live for 3000 years and grow over 300 feet high. Their trucks may be as wide as 35 feet. In the late 19th century, some enterprising locals hollowed out the middle of a giant sequoia creating a “drive-through” for tourists. Tunnels were carved through the base of the tree, a hole wide enough for carriages and later cars to pass through. Tourists often paused midway through to snap a quick memento – for a fee.

The first such drive-through tree was created in Yosemite Park in 1875. Sadly, it was struck by lightning and cut down. Today the trend to tunnel is no longer permitted, due to environmental concerns. While only a few drive-thru trees still exist, this week’s loss is significant.

But why are we writing about a dead tree on WARHorses?

Because the loss of this ancient tree, a glorious tree, provides an opportunity to reflect back, to consider the world a century ago. It was the hey day of the horse and buggy. Thomas Edison was working on the light bulb but the world was still without electricity. Vincent Van Gogh still had two ears. Mark Twain had just published The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. The Statue of Liberty found a home in New York harbor. Man was still 2 decades from flight.

The late 1800s saw the birth of American tourism. For the first time people could more easily and quickly travel across the country thanks in great part to improved infrastructure (dirt roads) then the Transcontinental Railroad. The National Park Service provided destinations with managed conveniences for people who wanted to visit the country’s exotic, natural wonders.

Accessing lauded sites like the drive-thru Pioneer Cabin Tree was challenging even hazardous compared to travel today. Finding a horse to make the journey was easy. In fact, you couldn’t throw a bad apple without hitting a horse back then. There were 14 times as many horses as people – 21 million rides to only 1.5 million riders. Once you had your horse, you still had to reach ride to California. A family from New York City would travel five months by wagon to drive through the Pioneer tree (trains cut travel time to 4-5 days).

As WARHorses, women who love horses, we can imagine horse and buggy days with a romantic perspective. Today most of us have only the weekends to get our horse fix. A hundred years ago, horses were integral to everyday. The idea of being privileged to snap a photo under a drive-thru tree perched in a horse drawn carriage is an exotic consideration indeed.

RIP lovely giant.


Edited from the Following Sources:,,,,

Photography Courtesy: Benjamin Lloyd Singley, the New York Public Library, the Doris A. and Lawrence Budner Theodore Roosevelt Collection, DeGolyer library and Southern Methodist University

America’s Drive-Thru Tunnel Trees

  • The Shrine drive-through tree in Myers Flat, California
  • The Wawona tree in Yellowstone National Park Grove created in 1881 then fell in 1968 after a heaven storm
  • The Chandelier tree in the Drive Thru Tree Park near Leggett, California (north of San Francisco) carved in 1937
  • The Tuolumne Grove tree in Yosemite National Park
  • The Tunnel log tree in Sequoia National Park carved in 1937