Election Section

Heed the Call of the Wild at Jack London Park

By MARTA YAMAMOTO Special to the Planet
Friday July 09, 2004

“All I wanted was a quiet place in the country to write and loaf in and get out of nature that something we all need, only most of us don’t know it.”  


Spoken by Jack London over 100 years ago, this still rings true today. Take a day to explore the life of this complex icon of popular adventure novels, and retrace his steps through groves of madrone, oak and redwoods, nestled below the Sonoma Mountains, in the Valley of the Moon. 

The 800 acres of Jack London State Historic Park are a tribute to the man and what he loved. A melodrama in nature combining a collection of memorabilia, the ruins of a grand mansion, the cottage where he wrote many of his later novels, his innovative farm, a hilltop lake, and the grave where he lies—all in a magnificent natural setting seemingly untouched by time. Over 10 miles of beautiful nature trails along creeks, fern grottos, and meadows of wildflowers and native grasses. Many scenic picnic areas, visitor friendly benches, and accessible pathways ensure that a day spent here will transport you back to when time moved more slowly. 

When you arrive, purchase the $1 park brochure. Inside you’ll find a map of the entire park as well as a self guided Beauty Ranch Trail Map. Park at the upper parking lot to begin your tour. 

A short, paved path beneath a canopy of oaks with lichen clad branches leads you to the House of Happy Walls, built by Charmian London to commemorate her husband’s life and work. Within this large craftsman-style lodge with Spanish roof tiles and field stone walls you’ll find a myriad collection: first editions and original illustrations from London’s books, his desk and typewriter, artifacts from the Londons’ sailing expeditions to the South Pacific, Hawaii and Australia, his collection of photographs, and varied exhibits illustrating his life and beliefs. All this will help put you in London’s shoes as you continue your day. 

From the museum, another trail will lead you to London’s gravesite and the infamous Wolf House. Past a mixed forest of Douglas fir and California buckeye, whose long blossom clusters scent the air, listening to the rustle of leaves and the call of the jays, it isn’t hard to imagine how these peaceful surroundings soothed the soul of this man of extremes. 

Set among towering redwoods are the remains of the 15,000 square-foot mansion designed by London. Its grandeur is still evident in the massive stone walls with openings for windows and doors and tall chimneys, all that remain. 26 rooms, nine fireplaces and a dining room to seat 50, a home fit for a king. Built from bark-covered redwood logs, volcanic rock and concrete, this dream house mysteriously burned to the ground days before the Londons were to move in. “My house will be standing, act of God permitting, for a 1,000 years.” Though London vowed to rebuild, he never did; three years later, at the age of 40, he was dead. 

Wolf House represents not only the tragedy of a magnificent creation destroyed, but also of a life ended too soon. Retracing your steps a short distance, you come to London’s simple grave on a lovely hillside, shaded by trees and simply marked by a large boulder. 

“I have no countryside home, I am a farmer.” Re-park your car at the upper parking lot to walk around Beauty Ranch where you will see evidence of London’s methods of scientific agriculture, experimental ranching and conservation. From here you’ll be set for a visit to the hilltop lake and an afternoon picnic. 

The Beauty Ranch Trail, described in the park brochure, is a half-mile loop through the center of 1,400 acres of London’s property. Here, from 1905 to 1916, London planted fruit and grain and raised horses, cattle and pigs. His cottage, open for tours on weekend afternoons, sits surrounded by vineyards, with a backdrop of the Sonoma Mountains. Your walk takes you past the Sherry and Stallion Barns, where English Shire horses were raised, and the innovative Pig Palace, designed and built by London in 1915. Seventeen individual courtyard stalls surround an energy saving central feed house, below oaks and madrones. A concrete pig heaven. 

Another short, but more strenuous trail, leads you just over half a mile to the least visited, but not to be missed, spot. Past sepia colored waves of grass contrasting with the greens of oaks and grape leaves, huge blackberry bushes heavy with fruit, redwoods towering above the sun dappled trail, pine needles and bay leaves underfoot, you soon emerge at London’s lakeside retreat. Formed by a stone dam, today home to black bass, reeds, damselflies, and visiting birdlife, it’s a lovely spot to watch the wind on the water and listen for the sound of hoof-beats that brought the Londons’ guests up to the lake and redwood bath- house to swim, fish, and enjoy a barbecue. 

Reserve time for your own repast at the Beauty Ranch picnic area where numerous tables and barbecue pits are available in the shade of oaks and eucalyptus trees. 

“I liked those hills up there. They were beautiful, as you see, and I wanted beauty.” The beauty remains. Spend a day at Jack London State Historic Park and discover it for yourself.