Long before the onset of Hollywood and the construction of Disneyland had visitors California dreamin', tourists flocked to California to witness the oldest (and perhaps oddest) tourist attraction of them all: a giant tree stump. What once was a giant sequoia tree, so-called "The Discovery Tree" for its colossal size, was cut down in 1853, sparking not only the oldest California roadside attraction but the beginnings of a passionate conservation movement that continues to this day.
Travelers looking to see the stump for themselves can learn all about its unique history below.
The Discovery Tree Inspired Awe In All And Greed In Few
In the spring of 1852, Augustus Dowd, a hunter tracking a bear in the Sierra Nevada mountains, encountered a tree so massive he could scarcely believe his eyes. Forgetting his hunt altogether, Dowd ran back to a nearby mining camp to tell the miners of his incredible find: a tree so mammoth it had to be seen to be believed. Word quickly spread of the gargantuan tree, and the public flocked to see it for themselves. As its popularity spread, miners and prospectors set their sights on monetizing the attraction.
Nicknamed the "Mammoth Tree" at the time, the bark was removed and put on display in San Francisco and as far away as New York, with sections of it touring to the delights of crowds. At 363 feet tall, with a base that measured 24 feet in diameter, this wonder of nature-inspired an appreciation for the giant sequoia trees of the area. Yet despite all this, The Discovery Tree's days were numbered.
A Tree Felled, And A Movement Is Born
After defying the odds to live to be over one thousand years old, thwarting windy storms and lightning strikes and forest fires for century after century, this beautiful giant came crashing to the ground only a year after being discovered by what turned out to be its greatest threat of all: man. It was later determined by its ring count to be 1,244 years old.
Convinced they could take the tree on the road and tour it to paying crowds, a group of men set about cutting the tree down. The men chiseled and used pump augers to chip away at its base, for there was no saw large enough to cut it down. After three weeks of cutting and 1,244 years of standing, The Discovery Tree fell to the ground on June 27, 1853. The Stump, as this once giant of the land, became known, was felled to become a dance floor.
Located in what is now Calaveras Big Trees State Park on the North Grove Trail, The Stump still attracts a wide range of visitors to this day, and, from the time it was discovered in 1852, it has been considered the longest-running tourist operation in California.
Scientists believe that if it had not been cut down and was still standing today, it would be the largest living thing on earth.
Seeking Profit But Churning Outrage Instead
The attempt to tour with the giant sequoia failed, making the men very little money, but as word spread of The Discovery Tree being cut down, anger spread. Newspaper journalists across the country wrote editorials denouncing the felling of this once-giant and questioned the values of a country that would allow the oldest and biggest tree to be cut down so people could mingle about it on it, at one point using a portion of it for a bar and bowling alley.
Finally, in 1864, Senator John Conness of California gave a speech in Congress encouraging the passing of a bill that would protect the Yosemite Valley area and the nearby giant sequoias. And while renowned conservationist John Muir visited the tree and publicly encouraged all to consider our environmental future, the giant sequoias of Calaveras--where The Discovery Tree was located--did not officially become a state park until 1931, after warring interests from lumber companies, politicians, and conservationists came to an end.
An Enduring Tourist Attraction
For travelers seeking to experience the beauty and wonder of the incredible giant sequoias, The Stump is a great place to visit. Walking amidst such massive wonders of nature provides visitors with the opportunity to contemplate the urgency--or lack thereof--with which we protect nature. And, of course, it offers a chance to reflect on what happens to the natural world when we choose short-term profits over long-term value. For a tree that lived over one thousand years, its enduring legacy continues to this day.