California's famous 'drive-thru' sequoia toppled by storms

By AMANDA LEE MYERS and RICH PEDRONCELLI,
Last Updated: Monday, January 09, 2017

(AP) A massive storm has toppled a giant California sequoia famous for a "drive-thru" hole carved into its trunk, causing fans of the mighty tree to mourn its loss.

The tree shattered on impact when it went down Sunday, Calaveras Big Trees State Park volunteer Jim Allday said.

"It was majestic," he said. "Now it's basically a pile of rubble."

A tunnel was carved into the tree's trunk in the 1880s to allow tourists to pass through, though weakening the giant. The tunnel had allowed cars to pass, but it only was allowed to be crossed by foot in recent decades.

Generations of locals and tourists have visited the tree for centuries, posing for photos and carving their names into it. Many of them took to social media Sunday and Monday, posting their memories of the tree.

"It's kind of like someone in the family has died," said Joyce Brown, a 65-year-old retired middle school teacher who has been visiting the tree since she was 12 and owns a cabin in nearby Arnold.

Brown said four generations of her family spent countless hours at the tree and often took out-of-town visitors there, some from as far away as Turkey.

"Everyone who went there was shocked at how big a tree could be," she said. "As a child you think you had come to a land of giants, that there must be giant people and giant animals living there because of the diameter of these trees."

Sumner Crawford remembers every detail of his first visit to the tree as a kid in the early 1990s.

"I remember I was walking through the tree and thinking 'I'm inside of the tree right now!' " he said. "It was madness."

He was stunned by the sequoia's size when his family of four tried to join hands around the tree they discovered they couldn't even come close.

"It was so different and so odd," said Crawford, who grew up on a farm in Virginia and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina. He recently visited the tree again, reliving those memories.

"I feel like it's part of my personal history. So it's a bummer to see it go," he said.

John Ripper, a 55-year-old printer in Northville, Michigan, said he and his wife visited the tree in May 2015.

"I was blown away," Ripper said. "I've traveled to 70 countries, But that particular tree and being able to walk underneath it and touch it was quite a memorable moment and something I won't soon forget."

Ripper said he can't believe such a massive and sturdy-looking tree was felled by a storm.

"In the blink of an eye it's gone," he said. "There's this giant tree everyone remembers, and it's going to be laying there in plain sight. The dead giant."

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Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian contributed to this report from Phoenix.