Never Let the Facts Get in The Way of a National Park Promotion

Where are the fact-checkers when you need them? Top photo of the drive-thru tree in Yosemite was taken by Traveler reader Lee Dalton in 1969.

Yesterday I hinted that there was a lot wrong with this “Sequoia National Park” drawing on the back of a box of Safeway brand Rice Pockets Cereal. So let's look at a few things that are wrong, then solve the question of what, if anything, is right.

Sequoia National Park?

You probably figured out that the drawing doesn't depict a scene found in Sequoia National Park. But if it's not Sequoia, where is it?

If you guessed that the tree pictured is in Yosemite National Park, you're on the right track, but still in the wrong park. You're thinking of the Wawona Tunnel Tree. Many years ago the Wawona Tree in Yosemite was a drive-through tree similar to the one featured on the box. You've probably seen photos or drawings of the Wawona Tree with the tunnel hacked through it. Those photos and drawings were widely distributed back in the early half of the 1900s when the National Park Service was trying to build tourism in Yosemite, and the photos and drawings still show up periodically in articles today.

The Wawona Tunnel Tree still can be found in Yosemite's Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, but these days it's better referred to as the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree, as it was toppled by a storm in 1969. For more on the Wawona Tree, including historic photos of it, see this site.

Is there a drive-thru tree in Sequoia National Park? The answer is 'yes,' and 'no.' The tree you might be thinking of is called the Tunnel Log, which is not an upright tree but rather the trunk of a fallen Giant Sequoia tree that has a tunnel cut through it. As with the Wawona tree, the tunnel was hacked into the log many years ago as a tourist attraction. If you visit Sequoia and have a reasonably low-clearance vehicle you can still drive through it. To see a classic tourist photo of my truck driving through the Tunnel Log go to this page.

Now, not far down the road from the Tunnel Log is another historic tourist attraction called the Auto Log. The top of this log was flattened and a driveway was built on the back side of it so that tourists could drive their car up onto the giant log for a photo. The Auto Log is still there and you can stand on it for a photo, but cars are not allowed on it anymore due to rot in the log.

If the tree on the cereal box is not in Sequoia and not in Yosemite, what park is it in? The answer is that it isn't in a national park at all. If you could make out the writing on the sign on the tree in the drawing, you would read "Chandelier Tree." That tree is located in Underwood Park (aka “Drive-Thru Tree Park”) in Leggett, California. That puts it about 450 miles northwest of Sequoia National Park. That's not all, the Chandelier Tree isn't even a Giant Sequoia. It's a Coast Redwood.

The Chandelier Tree's name comes from two large side branches on the tree that extend straight out, then turn up, giving it an appearance similar to a chandelier As tourist attractions go, it is actually pretty cool, if you can get passed the hacking a hole through an old-growth redwood thing. If it helps, Hazel and Charlie Underwood had the tunnel hacked into the tree back in the 1930s when such things weren't considered nearly as unacceptable.

Want to drive through more trees? Head north to the “Shrine Drive-Thru Tree” in Myers Flat, California, or the “Tour-Thru Tree” way up in Klamath, California. If you're interested in exploring drive-thru trees and other built-in-a-redwood tourist attractions from your computer, see the great collection of old post card photos at this site.

Traveler trivia: The Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) trees found in Sequoia National Park are relatives of the Coast Redwood and there is considerable confusion between the two different trees. Both are huge trees and have many similarities. At one time the Giant Sequoia was classified as Sequoia gigantea, the same genus as the Coast Redwood. Many nurseries still sell it under that name. The Coast Redwoods grow along the Pacific Coast, from mid-California up into southern Oregon. The Giant Sequoia are naturally found only in a small area of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, within Giant Sequoia National Monument, as well as Sequoia, King's Canyon, and Yosemite national parks. The Coast Redwood is taller than the Giant Sequoia at maturity, but the Giant Sequoia has a greater trunk diameter. The General Sherman Giant Sequoia in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world, by volume. The tallest tree in the world is a Coast Redwood called Hyperion located in Redwood National Park. Both Coast Redwood and Giant Sequoia trees are extensively grown as landscape trees throughout the Western U.S.

The answer to the question “What's right in the title of this drawing?” is the word “Sequoia.” The Chandelier Tree is a Coast Redwood, and the scientific name of the Coast Redwood is Sequoia sempervirens. Thus, if you really stretch it, the word “Sequoia” is right (as the genus of the tree shown), but wrong (as the location of the tree.)

Comments

A bit more on the taxonomy:

The plant family Taxodiaceae has 6 genera:

Taxodium with 3 species and a subspecies in North America (baldcypress, pond cypress, and Mexican cypress or sabino)

Cryptomeria with a single species (Japanese cedar)

Cunninghamia with a single species (Chinese fir)

Metasequoia with a single species (dawn redwood in China)

Sequoia with a single species (coast redwood)

Sequoiadendron with a single species (giant sequoia)

A very old group of species, with old splits on different continents, and common names reflecting that the original European botanists really didn't know what these were!

"...as well as Sequoia, King's Canyon, and Yosemite national parks."

There's no apostrophe in Kings Canyon.