“The storm was just too much for it,” the Calaveras Big Trees Association wrote on Facebook along with images of the fallen giant taken by park volunteer Jim Allday:
His wife, park volunteer Joan Allday, told SFGate that the tree was in bad shape before the storm hit.
“It was barely alive, there was one branch alive at the top,” she was quoted as saying. “But it was very brittle and starting to lift.”
It’s not clear how old the tree was, but other giant sequoias in the park are more than 1,200 years old.
The great tree with its 32-foot diameter was already a popular photo stop even before the tunnel was carved into it, as 19th-century images show:
According to the American Park Network’s OhRanger.com website, the tree was hollowed out in the 1880s to compete with a similar tree in Yosemite National Park, which had become a popular tourist destination. At the time, the Pioneer Cabin Tree was part of a privately owned resort, Redwood Hikes stated.
That tunnel won the tree attention, and for a time cars could even drive through it. However, the destruction of the trunk damaged the tree forever.
“Because of the huge cut, this tree can no longer support the growth of a top, which you can see lying on the ground if you walk through the tunnel,” a park brochure notes. “The opening also has reduced the ability of the tree to resist fire.”
The giant sequoias, cousins to the coastal redwoods, are the largest trees in the world by volume and can live up to 3,000 years old.