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2009 Trip Report - The Joe Elliot Tree

Joe Elliott Tree Memorial

December 5, 2009

By Marian Johns

Our one day trip up the San Savaine Road was a leisurely  drive which took us up, up and up into the clouds which were blowing quite  rapidly across our trail – sometimes clearing for a minute or two to expose the  steep, surrounding mountains. Even though it had snowed a week or so prior to  this day, nine vehicles and 16 people braved the elements and cold weather. Our  16 participants included Ruth and Emmett Harder, Nan Savage and her friend Ed  Correll, Dave and Pen Bullock, Nancy Gorham and her friend, Jean Paul Revel,  Allan Wicker, Betty Wallin and Don Sweinhart, Ted Kalil, Leonard Friedman and  yours truly, Marian Johns and current hubby, Neal. Luckily we found the snow  mostly melted and the road firm, but just to be sure we kept our truck in 4  wheel drive.


Although the distance to the Joe Elliott Tree Memorial  Campground is only 12.5 miles, it took over two hours to get there. We did make  a short side trip to the microwave tower complex, but that only took about 30  minutes. Because of a massive rock slide, the campground is now the end of the  road, but once it was possible to drive all the way across the mountain face and  down to Cucamonga Canyon, north of Upland and Alta Loma.

There at the campground Emmett Harder tried to tell the  story of the Joe Elliott Tree’s sad end, but he was frequently interrupted by a  horde of busy wood cutters and their noisy chainsaws. Back in 2003, the Grand  Prix fire destroyed nearly 60,000 acres, including the area around the  campground. So the U.S. Forest Service has bulldozed many of the dead trees into  trash piles and is now allowing wood cutters to haul out truck loads of fire  wood.

Emmett Harder did, between chainsaw outbursts, eventually  tell us how, back in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70’s, the Forest Service decided  to take the old giant down. Seems the tree had been weakened by campers building  campfires within the hollow base, and it was in danger of falling on its own. To  avoid such an unpredictable event that might imperil visitors, the USFS hired  Emmett, our very own explosives expert, to do the dirty work. Emmett set the  charges in a groove that had been cut around the base of the trunk, and then,  with a multitude of Forest Service personnel watching from a safe distance, he  lit it off. The tree rocketed straight up and broke into two sections, before  tumbling to the ground. A few minutes later, Emmett says, a motorcycle rider  arrived and asked where the Joe Elliott Tree was as he had been waiting for  years to see the largest tree in Southern California. “Well,” Emmett explained,  “You’re about five minutes too late.”

Since it was quite windy and chilly at the campground, we  opted to have lunch back in a cleared area we had passed earlier. Unfortunately,  we found that place windy and cold too, but since it was after lunchtime, we  decided to forego friendly chatting and eating outside. Instead, we all munched  on our sandwiches, etc., in the warmth and shelter of our vehicles.

A while back, on another Desert Explorer trip up to see the  remains of the Joe Elliott Tree, we found a huge, mostly intact log, but now,  because of the 2003 fire, it has been reduced to a blackened, charred hulk, that  is just a small remnant of its former self. Yet, somewhere in Southern  California there has to be another “largest” tree; I wonder where? When will it  be found? And who will find it?