The news of the iconic drive-through Sequoia “Tunnel Tree”also known as the “Pioneer Cabin Tree” succumbing to a winter storm in California this week has many reading the headline with sadness or regret. Whether you were able to drive through the giant tree on a family vacation as a kid or with your kids, this site will be missed as much as it is remembered fondly by droves of visitors from the last century. According to officials at the park, the trees there are approximately 1,000 years old but can live to be as old as 3,000 years. One can only imagine the history the Sequoia tree silently witnessed!
While no one could have known we’d be saying goodbye to the famous drive-through tree in the start of 2017, this type of thing happens now and then. A Minnesota State Park called Tettegouche made headlines a few years ago. The iconic stone arch which, like the sequoia tree would be part of every visitor’s vacation memories and photos, met its demise from natural causes over time. People who visit each year for the fall color tour have photos of both–family in front of the arch and in front of the nothingness with Lake Superior in the background.
As news of the tree falling traveled through groups of travel enthusiasts and friends, a theme was common: “This was on our list for this summer!” and “Oh no! How sad! I’m really kicking myself for not stopping!” “We didn’t want to pay so we didn’t go!”
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Travelers want to check the experience off on their travel bucket list. The living tunnel was carved out from one of the many behemoths at Calaveras Big Trees State Park in California around 100 years ago. In recent years, the tree became hike-through only. We knew it was a living thing but no one really put an expiration date on the big and beautiful icon. It just never occurred to me that one day this wouldn’t be around for families to marvel.
A Tree Falls in the Woods
The tree reportedly “shattered” when it hit the ground in the windstorm (one of the biggest in California history). Hikers had walked through the legendary trees earlier that day. As sad as it is to see a magnificent giant go, at least it wasn’t a catastrophic search and rescue headline.
Reportedly, localized mudslides and flooding could have contributed to the sequoia trees demise. This tree was about 150 feet tall and around 33 feet in diameter. It even had a fire scar. There is probably a story for each ring of the tree, perhaps a family vacation for each as well. The sequoia trees were tunneled in an effort to promote parks and tourism way back in the 19th century. I’d say it worked.
Other Natural Wonders
This makes me wonder about some of the awe-inspiring pinnacles and spires and arches in the Southwest at popular national parks like Arches, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. In the age of our great debates over water, it makes me wonder about rafting and hot springs and all the other natural wonders we sometimes, perhaps unknowingly, take for granted. The tunnel trees are NEAT but maybe we should take a moment to be thankful for all of the remaining whole, giant Sequoia trees and Redwoods and all the others we can still visit and enjoy.
Two things come to mind–we need to stop saying “next year” when it comes to traveling to see the places in the world which need to be seen. And, we need to do what we can to better care for those amazing wonders we still have! You’ve probably heard of the two bearded guys who are traveling the Pacific Crest Trail, picking up trash from other hikers and packing it out? We need more people to take action to help the world preserve our favorite outdoor sites.
Last Chance Tourism Paradox
There are still three giant redwood trees in California that allow visitors to drive through. If this was really important to your wanderlist, we suggest you get to California before you’re too late. Some things are temporary. Go! Now!
Or maybe not. With climate change, are we hastening the fates of these fantastic places? By scrambling to see these places before they’re gone, we’re making it worse, aren’t we? What is the right thing to do? Enjoy from afar or go before they’re gone?
The other side of our disappearing icons is totally predictable, unlike windstorms (which, incidentally are somewhat predictable.) It is happening with many impressive, important and now fragile sites across the world. Human impact, weathering, and other forces are slowly causing some of the world’s most amazing sites and ecosystems to disappear. However, because of this love of icons and the urge to wander yonder, tourists and travelers are actually speeding up the process in many cases. Here are just a few places you may want to go, post-haste!
This pilgrimage has become wildly popular with tourists in the last decade. Now there is so much foot traffic that the World Heritage Site is starting to show signs of wear. The regular disturbance is complicated by people going off-path for selfies and destroying the area. Erosion, landslides, and simply too many people are killing this ancient city.
The Great Barrier Reef
One of the natural wonders of the world, this site has seen many headlines in the last year about bleaching. Scientists and travelers alike worry about the future of the popular dive site and ecosystem.
Another site built around a living icon. These trees have been suffering under California’s drought. If something doesn’t get better, someday, though hopefully not soon, the park’s namesake may be gone.
The Dead Sea
Yep. The Dead Sea is dying. As much as that might delight for headlines sake, it’s a sad occasion. You will need to visit soon in order to make it on time. It’s losing BILLIONS of gallons of water each year. Plan a trip to Jordan and the lowest elevation on earth soon!
Glacier National Park
Another park named for the incredible resource that is disappearing. Glacial recession has this U.S. National park on the must-visit short list. Only 25 glaciers remain today and those have an expiration date, scientists say, of around 2030.
Algal blooms caused by a rapidly warming ocean are making the marine life change or die-off. It’s affecting land animals there, too. Sea levels rising, for instance, is displacing penguins from their nesting grounds along the coastal shores.