Wacky American Stuff, Part I

8 09 2010

Having lived overseas for such a long time sometimes I am astounded at all the stuff my own country has to offer that I didn’t know about before. Stuff that’s not in any guidebooks that I have read recently. Or maybe it’s just because I am an over-sophisticated eastern seaboard Yankee that I find some of the things I see out here in the West a bit off the wall.

Near Leggett, CA, for example, is an international natural landmark that I had not yet heard of till we actually drove past it and decided at the spur of the moment to go there. It is “The World-Famous Drive-Through Tree”, a coast redwood tree, 315 feet (95 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet (6 meters). It is called the “Chandelier Tree” because of the shape of its branches.

Redwoods are unbelievably hardy plants, and grow to be among the biggest and longest-living beings on earth. They can reach about 400 feet (120 meters) in height and can live for more than 2,000 years. They are massive, gracious trees and endless forests of these unbelievably majestic and beautiful individuals stretch across hundreds of miles along the Pacific coast.

Lots and lots of very big trees.

And if you don’t know what a drive-through tree is, well, you are not alone.

The gateway to the “world-famous drive-through tree” (according to the website redwoods.info one of only three drive-through trees in all of the United States) is a small driveway leading off highway 101. An old guy with a baseball cap sits in a small hut in the woods and charges five dollars per car ($3 per motorcycle) for the privilege of driving another quarter mile on a dirt road through the forest, and standing in a single-lane, one-way traffic jam.

In typical U.S. fashion, visitors to the “world-famous drive-though tree” traffic jam sit inside their air-conditioned SUVs, trucks and minivans with their engines running on idle while sipping Coke from 36 oz (1 liter) paper cups. After a few curves, the “world-famous drive-through tree” finally comes into view: a giant redwood with a tunnel big enough for a car carved into its base. This is the attraction of the day – a huge hole in the base of a huge tree! Amazing.

(And… I’m just curious… what do the eco-friendly among us think about this?)

R. wonders aloud whether or not the other drivers will be surprised that there’s no one taking their fast-food order through a speaker and they don’t get it delivered to their window when they pass out the other side.

I'll have a happy meal, please.

We do the (ethically and environmentally questionable) tourist-trap thing and drive our Jeep Grand Cherokee through the hole, and then we get our five bucks’ worth of photos and video, too. We’re hoping the money goes into some sort of fund to protect the redwoods, but at the same time we are realistic enough to recognize a good American capitalist when we see one.

The old guy smiles and waves to us from his hut as we leave.

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