Author Archives: Robert Van Pelt

Robert Van Pelt is a research Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington. An artist and global authority on champion trees, he specializes in quantitative ecology and is a researcher with the League’s Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative.

Historic photo of El Palo Alto tree

An Enduring Emblem: El Palo Alto


In 1776 and 1777, the missions in San Francisco and Santa Clara were established (along with the Presidio), and the road connecting them was the El Camino Real, which passed right by El Palo Alto. Apart from some oaks, the only large tree on the 47-mile journey between the two missions was El Palo Alto, so it naturally became a famous landmark — it is currently listed as California Historical Landmark No. 2.