Thursday, August 18, 2011

California Drive-Thru Trees

Tunnel trees have been popular tourist attractions in California for more than a century and have been pictured on numerous postcards. I started with a postcard of the Pioneer's Cabin tree in Big Tree Grove, Calaveras County, California and then went on to explore other California drive-thru trees.

The Pioneer's Cabin postcard was mailed in 1923 and has a R.P.O. (Railway Post Office) cancellation. It was sent to Eva Anfinson in Valley City, North Dakota with the following message:
Lodi Calif July 25
We spent Sunday at the Big Trees. Drove 84 miles on Sat and camped out all night. We are having a wonderful trip. Leave tomorrow a.m. for Sacramento. Will reach Medford Ore on Sat. I am sitting on the porch. The porch is shaded by two magnolia trees. There are still some blossoms on them.
Mrs Walker

The Pioneer's Cabin is a 32' diameter tree. A tunnel was carved in it in the 1880s to compete with the Wawona tree in Yosemite National Park. Both the Pioneer's Cabin and Wawona trees were sequoias. The Wawona tree (shown in the next postcard) was tunneled in 1880-81. It was 234' tall and 27.5' in diameter at the base. The Wawona tree fell down in 1969. The Pioneer's Cabin tree is still standing, but it is in poor condition, and it is no longer possible to drive through it.

The Coolidge Tree was named after President Coolidge's father. It was 305' high and had a circumference of 58' . The Coolidge Tree was tunneled between 1910 and 1915. The Coolidge tree was cut down in 1938 when it appeared ready to topple.

The next postcard has a view of the Chandelier Tree attached to a piece of redwood. Information about redwood is printed on the wooden back. This card was sent in the 1960s by a tourist who added this note: "This is where we were today. We saw the Pacific Ocean too."

The Chandelier Tree is 315' tall and 21' in diameter. It was tunneled in the late 1930s to replace the nearby Coolidge tree when that tree was cut down. The opening is 6' (1.83 m) wide by 6'9"(2.06 m) high. The Chandelier Tree was named for its shape which resembles a candelabra or inverted chandelier. Large branches, beginning about a hundred feet up, are balanced on the sides of the trunk. The Chandelier Tree is one of the two old redwood tunnel trees that it is still possible to drive through. It is in Drive-Thru Tree (Underwood) Park.

The Shrine Tree is the other old tunnel tree that still can be driven through. The Shrine Tree is 275' tall and 21' in diameter. The car in the old postcard below has a 1935 New York license plate.

The video below shows a recent drive-thru of the Shrine Tree.

Visit Sepia Saturday for More Vintage Photos


  1. What a shame some of those old giants collapsed or were felled. I wonder if they were actually weakened by being tunnelled into.

  2. A great collection of cards. You would think that all those years of exhaust fumes being pumped into the very heart of the trees would have some impact on them. But they appear to keep on growing - oblivious.

  3. I find it hard to see that tunnelling through a tree should become an attraction. Even a horse and cart would have done a detour. Sequoia are fabulous trees.

  4. What A Marvellous Collection! I had never even heard of such tunnels let alone seen photos of them.

  5. Those trees would probably still be standing if they were left alone. Little did they know how much damage the tunneling was doing back then. Great post and postcards. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I can't quite remember the saying, something about: does a tree cry out when it falls in the forrest? Well, I wonder if it was in constant agony when they were tunneled like this?

  7. Oh these trees are great! I even drove through one like this in South Dakota which for me is easier to get driving....great tree post...the cars rock as well!

  8. These are incredible! I'm pretty sure that we went there when I was little; they aren't so far away. I think there is/was a Trees of Mystery spot of some sort. Thanks for reminding me, I'll need to check this out again.

    Happy SS!

    Kathy M.

  9. I've heard of a drive through tree but I had no idea there were so many of them.

  10. Some of the photos show trees I have heard of. Never been out west and know of no others in my side of the US. Great post.

  11. Fantastic collection of tunnel trees. I like the vertical postcard with the little red car going through.

  12. You have chosen my favorite trees, the coastal redwoods. A forest of old growth redwoods, to me, are more beautiful than any man made cathedral.

    They are a fascinating tree, and no the drive-thru does not hurt them. There are many trees that have the lower portion completely burned out and still live on for hundreds if not thousands of years. You actually just step inside the tree.

    You did a wonderful post.

  13. What an interesting theme for postcard collections! Trees with holes. A very American idea too.

  14. I had always thought that these types of drive through trees were only in the imagination of early film makers. They look almost staged. It's made a very interesting post.

  15. Amazing photos, and amazing what our forebears thought was appropriate!

  16. while the idea seems funny, the idea of touching those big trees annoys me somewhat. but it made for a fun display today.

  17. What a fantastic post! I'd no idea that you could drive through trees until I read this.
    Thank you.


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