Vintage and Not-So-Vintage Snapshots: Drive-Thru Trees


(first posted 6/30/2017)        What is it about large (OK, giant) trees that compels us to tunnel through their bases with our roads? It’s not a new invention, certainly predating the automobile, and who knows, maybe even photography. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of documentary evidence that this passion is both long-lasting and widespread. Exhibit number one (above) is an oddly fetching example of our possibly even Freudian weakness for penetrating between the legs of a living object with something wide, low, and especially, long, filled with vigorous passengers. Like maybe a stretched ’57 Chevy?


Photo: Underwood & Underwood (really)

One particularly vigorous specimen penetrated this very same orifice (the since-fallen Wawona Tree in Yosemite National Park) way back in 1903, before hydrocarbons began to foul the famous nearby valley. Though, in fairness, famed naturalist John Muir had already begun to complain about tourists’ trash and their animals’ trampling of meadows and streambanks. Said Muir, “It would be a fine thing to keep this garden untrodden. Now the pines will be carved with the initials of Smith and Jones, and the gardens strewn with tin cans and bottles, but the winter gales will blow most of this rubbish away, and avalanches may strip off the ladders [from South Dome-ed.].” (San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin , November 18, 1875.)


Photo: Gary Cullen

Not content with the ceremonial birthing of vigorous domestic offspring, the Tour Thru Tree in Klamath, California, offers up this three-eyed Tatra monster that bears a single, presumably lonely, ride-along who appears vividly satisfied with his accomplishment.



In 1941, a 1937 Nash LaFayette 400 burst forth from the roadside-sign-famous Chandelier Tree, possibly making a mad dash south to report for Naval duty in San Francisco, the nearest city of any size for at least a couple of hundred miles. (Note that 12,000 board feet of pure, virgin, heartwood lumber were removed to clear its way.)



Here, proving again the persistence and ardor of our suit, a girth-busting VW Transporter muscles its way through the Chandelier Tree sometime after 1973. No telling how many little hitchhikers could be in there. Buster seems a bit worse for the experience, though, sporting a somewhat disheveled driver-side mirror.


Photo: Darius Kinsey

Even stumps are not to be outdone. This formerly noble cedar proves commodiously welcoming to any Franklins that might come her way.


Photo: Ellis51

Our friendly arborvitae still welcomed weary travelers twenty or so years later, even though they seemed to bear neither cash, nor customer.



Jealousy begins to prevail in her later years, however, with younger, fresher cedars thrusting up nearby, no doubt hungry to play hostess to exciting vehicular metaphors of their own. What metaphor might be suggested by a 1958 Chevy, I don’t know. But maybe it was just the last straw, because…


Photo: Brian Williams/Flickr

…she was eventually shunned by the highway, if not by the other trees. The venerable stump now comprises the main attraction at the Smokey Point Rest Area located on I5 in Snohomish County, Washington.


Photo: William Bird/Flickr

As if to prove that our metaphor can be stretched to its utmost, we present the (covers eyes) train that pulls through the paired legs of the Twin Drive-Thru Tree [now Twin Towers-ed.] at Confusion Hill, a classic roadside attraction in Piercy, California. I doubt that these conjoined Grand Dames are in the least bit comforted by the engineer’s cheery wave as he comes around again and again, like on so many days before.


Photo: Confusion Hill

To eliminate any confusion over the trees at Confusion Hill, at last we present the Smoke Stack Tree, named with stunning compassion for the relationship between trees and fire.

For those CCer’s living East of the Sierra Nevada, who only know trees as upright, briefly green logs that impinge hazardously upon mile after mile of their roadways; know that out here, when a tree is too close, too big, or just too smug and attractive, we shove our vehicles right on through without a whit of care or a fare-thee-well.

Only the US Government has shown any restraint, closing all such passages within its parks to vehicular traffic. All remaining drive-thru trees are now privately owned tourist attractions.