The Chandelier Tree
(A note from That Car Guy (Chuck): This post is dedicated to my Mother, who just left us recently. She loved all living things, especially plants, and would have been amazed at the sight of this magnificent tree.)
So when's the last time you've driven through a tree and did no damage whatsoever to your car, its occupants, or the tree itself? That's right, a tree, a big, growing, hard, wooden thing that gives you shade in the Summertime, usually drops its leaves in the Fall, and looks so grand in the Spring.
The Chandelier Tree in Leggett, California, offers just that opportunity. There's a small fee as you enter the grounds, where the "natural" potholes enforce a 5 mph park speed limit. And just in case you were wondering, the Tree gets its name from its limbs that resemble an ornate chandelier.
The Tree is a Giant Sequoia, stands 315 feet tall, and is estimated to be 2,400 years old. As a reference, it's the same height as the Old Post Office Pavillion in Washington, D.C. And to gain its claim to fame, an approximately 6-foot-wide by 6-foot, 9-inch-tall opening was cut into its base in the 1930s by Hazel and Charlie Underwood and some helpers.
It has branches so large that they support their own ecosystems with trees of other types growing on them. And though the Chandelier Tree is a spectacle itself, the tallest known living thing is another redwood tree, which is named named Hyperion, and is 379.1 feet tall.
Two similar trees fell recently, were caught on tape as they fell, and have made international news about what to do with them. But they will not be cut up for lumber, and the last I heard, a wooden walkway/bridge will be built over them. When they fell, they covered the nature Trail of 100 Giants that led to them in the first place.
Yes, the Chandelier Tree is very famous! It is briefly featured in the opening credits of "National Lampoon's Vacation," just 12 seconds into the film. It's also in Chevrolet's recent "Chevy Runs Deep (Then and Now)" commercial at 24 seconds.
About a year and a half ago, our little group was returning from Eureka, California, and we decided to stop by and see this attraction. It's just a mile or so off of Highway 101, also known as the Redwood Highway in that area. "The 101" is the longest highway in California; it begins in downtown Los Angeles, crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, then terminates at the California/Oregon state line.
I remember reading about the Tree in books when I was a grade schooler, fantasized about seeing it in person some day, and thought this may be my only chance to visit. So as we neared Leggett, we saw signs that easily directed us to the Drive-Through Tree Park, got off of the 101, and entered the park.
Nearing the cut-out, I approached the Chandelier Tree with caution; we folded the mirrors back on the Civic just in case, and I eased through this magnificent creation of Nature. I'm thankful that the car had a sunroof.
Inside the Tree's opening, along both sides, are scratches and paint marks from cars gone by. I can just imagine the Mercury Marquis, Chevy Impalas, and Wagon Queen Family Trucksters that were just too wide (or their mirrors did not collapse), so they left their marks and colors forever inside the artificial orifice.
The drive through the Tree ended way too quickly, and I kept all of the paint on the car.
Looking up into the Tree's core, there's a gap where it is somewhat hollow for a few feet. Or maybe a couple dozen feet. But I'm sure the Tree is very sound, and will be with us for many centuries to come.
There's a nice gift shop just after you exit this truly unique driving experience, and of course I bought a few post cards -- they always have better images than I can take. Then we stood around for a few minutes, took these pictures, and we headed on our way.
My favorite line in all of television comes from The Andy Griffith Show's "Opie The Birdman" episode. In the final scene, after Opie releases the birds, Winkin', Blinkin', and Nod to the wild, he says, "The cage sure looks awful empty don't it, Pa." Then Andy responds, "Yes son, it sure does. But don't the trees seem nice and full." And I believe the Chandelier Tree is more full of life than any other thing I've ever seen.
Mom had also written a passage recently. In the final line she said, "Bloom where you are planted." I believe she and this tree did and have done just that.
They say a picture is worth 10,000 words; I found this on Youtube:
So the next time you're in Northern California, I highly suggest you go out of your way to see this tree. But please be careful, and don't leave any of your car's paintwork there for future generations to gawk at.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
Image Credits: Yes, that's yours truly there, acting totally goofy. I can't remember if it was the sign or the horizon that was tilted. Maybe both.
I like cloudy days for shooting these kind of pictures. The lack of harsh shadows seems very soothing.