Wawona Tree

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Wawona Tree
Wawona tree1.jpg
Wawona Tunnel Tree, June 1918
Species Giant sequoia ( Sequoiadendron giganteum )
Location Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, US
Coordinates 37°30′53″N119°35′42″W / 37.51470°N 119.59494°W / 37.51470; -119.59494 Coordinates: 37°30′53″N119°35′42″W / 37.51470°N 119.59494°W / 37.51470; -119.59494
Date felledFebruary 1969 [1]  (February 1969 [1] )
Wawona Tunnel Tree, August 1962 6209-YosemiteTunnelTree.jpg
Wawona Tunnel Tree, August 1962

The Wawona Tree, also known as the Wawona Tunnel Tree, was a famous giant sequoia that stood in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, USA, until February 1969. It had a height of 227 feet (69 m) and was 26 feet (7.9 m) in diameter at the base. [2]

<i>Sequoiadendron giganteum</i> species of plant

Sequoiadendron giganteum is the sole living species in the genus Sequoiadendron, and one of three species of coniferous trees known as redwoods, classified in the family Cupressaceae in the subfamily Sequoioideae, together with Sequoia sempervirens and Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Giant sequoia specimens are the most massive trees on Earth. The common use of the name sequoia usually refers to Sequoiadendron giganteum, which occurs naturally only in groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

Mariposa Grove United States historic place

Mariposa Grove is a sequoia grove located near Wawona, California, United States, in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park. It is the largest grove of giant sequoias in the park, with several hundred mature examples of the tree. Two of its trees are among the 30 largest giant sequoias in the world. The grove closed on July 6, 2015, for a restoration project and reopened on June 15, 2018.

Yosemite National Park National park in California, United States

Yosemite National Park is an American national park located in the western Sierra Nevada of Central California, bounded on the southeast by Sierra National Forest and on the northwest by Stanislaus National Forest. The park is managed by the National Park Service and covers an area of 748,436 acres and sits in four counties: centered in Tuolumne and Mariposa, extending north and east to Mono and south to Madera County. Designated a World Heritage site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, meadows, glaciers, and biological diversity. Almost 95% of the park is designated wilderness.


The origin of the word Wawona is not known. [3] [4] [5] A popular story claims Wawō'na was the Miwok word for "big tree", or for "hoot of the owl". Birds are considered the sequoia trees' spiritual guardian. [6]


The Miwok are members of four linguistically related Native American groups indigenous to what is now Northern California, who traditionally spoke one of the Miwok languages in the Utian family. The word Miwok means people in the Miwok language.


The fallen tree, October 2012 Fallen Tunnel Tree.jpg
The fallen tree, October 2012

A tunnel was cut through the tree in 1881, enlarging an existing fire scar. Two men, the Scribner brothers, were paid $75 for the job (equivalent to $1,947in 2018). The tree had a slight lean, which increased when the tunnel was completed. Created by the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company as a tourist attraction, this human-made tunnel became immensely popular. Visitors were often photographed driving through or standing in the tunnel.

Construction of the Wawona Tree was part of an effort by the Park Service to increase tourism in the age of the automobile. Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park Service, was a main supporter of building a tourist clientele for the parks, which would in turn attract increasing appropriations from Congress and establish the Park Service as a legitimate and noteworthy bureaucratic agency. [7] Mather and his chief aide, Horace Albright, who would also be his successor, worked to make the parks as accessible as possible and, with drive-through attractions such as the Tunnel Tree, as memorable as possible. Mather and Albright had already worked on the "See America First" campaign, trying to connect with western railroads to increase visitation to the parks. In the 1920s, the Park Service actively promoted automobile tourism. Roads and roadside attractions bloomed on the sites of Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Roads, they believed, would also increase accessibility for "those who are not as strong and agile as you and I, for they too are entitled to their inspiration and enjoyment," as Albright stated in a 1931 letter about roads in the Smokies. Around this time, the term 'scenic drive' became introduced into the national vocabulary. [8] The Wawona Tree may also have served as the inspiration for the 1946 children's book, Big Tree , by Mary and Conrad Buff.

Stephen Mather American businessman

Stephen Tyng Mather was an American industrialist and conservationist who as president and owner of Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company became a millionaire. With his friend and journalist Robert Sterling Yard, Mather led a publicity campaign to promote the creation of a unified federal agency to oversee National Parks administration, which was established in 1916. In 1917, Mather was appointed as the first director of the National Park Service, the new agency created within the Department of the Interior. He served until 1929, during which time Mather created a professional civil service organization, increased the numbers of parks and national monuments, and established systematic criteria for adding new properties to the federal system.

<i>Big Tree</i> (novel)

Big Tree is a children's novel written and illustrated by Mary and Conrad Buff. In the book a personified 5,000-year-old giant sequoia tells its life story. The novel was first published in 1946 and was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1947. It may have been inspired by the Wawona Tree.

Mary Buff and Conrad Buff II were married creators of illustrated children's books. Between 1937 and 1968, they collaborated on both text and illustrations to produce 14 books; four times they were a runner-up for the Caldecott Medal or Newbery Medal. They had a profound impact on children's literature in the middle of the 20th century.

The Wawona Tree fell in February 1969 [1] under a heavy load of snow on its crown. The giant sequoia is estimated to have been 2,300 years old. When the giant tree fell, there was much debate over what to do with it. It has remained where it fell primarily for ecological reasons, but still serves as a popular tourist destination. Because of their size, giant sequoias can create vast new ecosystems when they fall, providing habitat for insects and animals and allowing new plant growth. [9] It is now known as the Fallen Tunnel Tree.

Visitors to nearby Sequoia National Park sometimes confuse Yosemite's Fallen Tunnel Tree with Sequoia National Park's Tunnel Log. [10] [11] [12] A modest notice of both the Wawona Tree and another tunnel tree appears in the May 28, 1899 issue of a Sacramento Daily Union article: "In the lower grove there is another tree through which the wagon road runs. It is named California and is twenty-one feet in diameter at the base and 248 feet in height." [13]

Other uses

Pacific Life adopted Wawona as its symbol and trademark in the early 1900s because it symbolized endurance, strength, and protection. The company commissioned sculptor Spero Anargyros to carve Wawona in the foyer of their San Francisco Northern California headquarters in 1956. A replica of Anargyros' Wawona carving was featured on one side of Pacific Life's centenary medallion in 1968. [14]

Pacific Life American insurance company

Pacific Life Insurance Company is an American insurance company providing life insurance products, annuities, and mutual funds, and offers a variety of investment products and services to individuals, businesses, and pension plans. Pacific Life also counts more than half of the 100 largest U.S. companies as clients. They currently have over 15,600 agents licensed to sell insurance, just in the state of California.

Other tunnel trees

A number of big trees in California had tunnels dug through them in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The tunnel allowed tourists to drive, bike, or walk through the tree. The tunneling inflicted severe damage to the health and strength of the trees. The tunnels were cut to stimulate automobile tourism. Because of the damaging effects of carving through trees, the practice of creating tunnel trees has long passed.

Giant sequoias

The other giant sequoia drive-through tree has also fallen:

But two walk-through tunnel trees still stand:

Coast redwoods

See also

Related Research Articles

Sequoia National Park national park in the Sierra Nevada mountains, California, USA

Sequoia National Park is an American national park in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California. The park was established on September 25, 1890 to protect 404,064 acres of forested mountainous terrain. Encompassing a vertical relief of nearly 13,000 feet (4,000 m), the park contains the highest point in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4,421 m) above sea level. The park is south of, and contiguous with, Kings Canyon National Park; the two parks are administered by the National Park Service together as the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. UNESCO designated the areas as Sequoia-Kings Canyon Biosphere Reserve in 1976.

Wawona, California Census-designated place in California, United States

Wawona is a census-designated place in Mariposa County, California. It is located 18 miles (29 km) east of Mariposa, at an elevation of 3999 feet. The population was 169 at the 2010 census.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park California state park with groves of giant sequoias

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a state park of California, United States, preserving two groves of giant sequoia trees. It is located 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Arnold, California in the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada. It has been a major tourist attraction since 1852, when the existence of the trees was first widely reported, and is considered the longest continuously operated tourist facility in California.

General Grant Grove

General Grant Grove, a section of the greater Kings Canyon National Park, was established by the US Congress in 1890 and is located in Fresno County, California. The primary attraction of General Grant Grove is the giant sequoia trees that populate the grove. General Grant Grove's most well-known tree is the General Grant Tree, which is 267 feet tall and the third largest known tree in the world. The General Grant Tree is over 1,500 years old and is known as the United States's national Christmas Tree. General Grant Grove consists of 154 acres and is geographically isolated from the rest of Kings Canyon National Park.

History of the Yosemite area

Human habitation in the Sierra Nevada region of California reaches back 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Historically attested Native American populations, such as the Sierra Miwok, Mono and Paiute, belong to the Uto-Aztecan and Utian phyla.

Galen Clark American conservationist

Galen Clark is known as the first European American to discover the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees, and is notable for his role in gaining legislation to protect it and the Yosemite area, and for 24 years serving as Guardian of Yosemite National Park.

Wawona Hotel United States historic place

The Wawona Hotel is a historic hotel located within southern Yosemite National Park, in California. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Save the Redwoods League Nonprofit forest conservation organization in San Francisco, California (USA)

Save the Redwoods League is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect and restore coast redwood and giant sequoia trees through the preemptive purchase of development rights to notable areas with such forests.

Wawona may refer to:

Chandelier Tree geographical object

The Chandelier Tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park is a 276-foot (84 m) tall coast redwood tree in Leggett, California with a 6-foot (1.8 m) wide by 6-foot-9-inch (2.06 m) high hole cut through its base to allow a car to drive through. Its base measures 16 ft (4.9 m) diameter at breast height (chest-high). The sign claims 315 ft. high and 21 ft. wide, but a Certified Arborist experienced with tallest redwoods, using a laser rangefinder, measured the tree as 276 ft. high and 16 ft. diameter. The name "Chandelier Tree" comes from its unique limbs that resemble a chandelier. The limbs, which measure from 4 to 7 ft in diameter, begin 100 ft (30 m) above the ground. The tree is believed to have been carved in the early 1930s by Charlie Underwood.

Tuolumne Grove

Tuolumne Grove is a sequoia grove located near Crane Flat in Yosemite National Park, at 37°46′09″N119°48′36″W. It is about 16 miles (26 km) west of Yosemite Village on Tioga Pass Road. The grove contains many conifers, including a few Sequoiadendron giganteum as well as Abies concolor and Pinus lambertiana.

Grizzly Giant

The Grizzly Giant is a giant sequoia in Mariposa Grove, located in Yosemite National Park. The tree has been measured many times, most recently in 1990 by Wendell Flint. It has a volume of 34,005 cubic feet (962.9 m3), which makes it the 25th largest giant sequoia living today.

Geography of the Yosemite area

Yosemite National Park is located in the central Sierra Nevada of California. Three wilderness areas are adjacent to Yosemite: the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the southeast, the Hoover Wilderness to the northeast, and the Emigrant Wilderness to the north.

Pioneer Cabin Tree

The Pioneer Cabin Tree, also known as The Tunnel Tree, was a giant sequoia in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, California. It was considered one of the U.S.'s most famous trees, and drew thousands of visitors annually. It was estimated to have been more than 1,000 years old, and measured 33 feet (10 m) in diameter; its exact age and height were not known. The tree was topped before 1859. It fell and shattered during a storm on January 8, 2017.

Ferguson Fire 2018 wildfire in California

The Ferguson Fire was a wildfire in the Sierra National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park in California in the United States. The fire was reported on July 13, 2018, burning 96,901 acres (392 km2), before it was 100% contained on August 19, 2018. Interior areas of the fire continued to smolder and burn until September 19, 2018, when InciWeb declared the fire to be inactive. The Ferguson Fire was caused by the superheated fragments of a faulty vehicle catalytic converter igniting vegetation. The fire, which burned mostly in inaccessible wildland areas of the national forest, has impacted recreational activities in the area, including in Yosemite National Park, where Yosemite Valley and Wawona were closed. The Ferguson fire caused at least $171.2 million in damages, with a suppression cost of $118.5 million and economic losses measuring $52.7 million. Two firefighters were killed and nineteen others were injured in the fire.


  1. 1 2 3 "National Park Quiz 58: Tunnels - National Parks Traveler". www.nationalparkstraveler.com. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  2. "Frequently Asked Questions, Tunnel Tree". Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. National Park Service. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
  3. Farquhar, Francis P. "Place Names of the High Sierra". Yosemite Online. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  4. Kroeber, Alfred J. (1916). "California Place Names of Indian Origin". American Archaeology and Ethnology. 12 (2): 66. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  5. Clark, Galen (1904). Indians of the Yosemite Valley and Vicinity (1st ed.). Yosemite Valley, California. p. 109. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  6. Archived December 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Allin, Craig W. (1987). "9: Wilderness Preservation as a Bureaucratic Tool". In Foss, Phillip O. (ed.). Federal Lands Policy. New York: Greenwood Press. pp. 130–131.
  8. Pierce, Daniel S. (2003). "9: The Road to Nowhere Tourism Development versus Environmentalism in the Great Smoky Mountains". In Starnes, Richard D. (ed.). Southern Journeys: Tourism, History, and Culture in the Modern South. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. pp. 200–201.
  9. "When Giants Fall". American Forests. 117 (4): 12. Winter 2012.
  10. Johnson, Terrell (Feb 19, 2013). "The World's 20 Most Amazing Tunnels". weather.com Travel. Retrieved 2013-02-19.
  11. 1 2 3 "Where is the tree you can drive through?" (PDF). United States Forest Service. Retrieved January 10, 2017.
  12. 1 2 "The Myth of the Tree You Can Drive Through". National Park Service . Retrieved 2017-01-10. [The Wawona Tree] was the second standing sequoia to be tunneled (the first, a dead tree, still stands in the Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite).
  13. Leitch, B. M. (28 May 1899). "California's Big Trees". Sacramento Daily Union (96). Retrieved 25 June 2014.
  14. Nunis, Doyce B. Past Is Prologue: A Centennial Profile of Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company. Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1968. 26, 59.
  15. Hilton, Spud (2016-06-17). "Original essays: Why they love the parks". San Francisco Chronicle . Retrieved 2017-01-09. The iconic California Tunnel Tree, cut in 1895 to allow horse-drawn stages to pass through, at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park.
  16. "Destination drive through trees". OhRanger.com. Retrieved January 9, 2017.

Further reading