While doing some work, I came across some stories and photos about the Bohemian Grove the other day, which reminded me that Jack London was a member of that exclusive group too. An activist, a writer, a journalist, London was an interesting fellow. All of which is on well-preserved display at his Beauty Ranch estate, which is now much of Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, between Santa Rosa and Sonoma.
On a recent day, we headed out on the trails that ring the park. There aren’t many, but you can easily make a day of it by patching together a few different routes and stopping at the landmarks. And there are plenty of landmarks to see. The ruins of the Wolf House, the dream house Jack and his wife built that mysteriously (suspiciously?) burned down before they could enjoy it; the ranch and its operations themselves; a man-made dam that provided irrigation from a hillside lake into the vineyards and fields; silos; stables, and more. The trail choices range from half-mile spurs to several longer trails, each of which cover about 9-plus miles and have elevation gains of more than 1,300 feet.
For a literary fan such as myself, it’s a treat to see an author’s haven. This was the inspiration for dozens of London’s works, many of which were not terribly successful or well-regarded, but as he noted many times, the purpose of his writing career in his later years was to pay for his luxurious setting, the Sonoma County ranch. He was clear about the ends justifying the means, so to speak.
The park is now adjacent to the Sonoma Mountain park, which will also include a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, so it’s likely that once access is opened up between the two parks, even more people will discover the area. But for now, the mix of short and medium trails are not all that crowded. It’s an easy place to stroll around, see evidence of London’s last years and learn more about him. I’m never against learning while I hike. Kind of a pleasant form of multi-tasking. Sure, his classics are known to most, but did you know that the Sonoma State University mascot is the Seawolf, named for London’s Sea-Wolf novel?
I do like this quote that London told an interviewer shortly before his death:
“In answer to your question as to the greatest factors of my literary success, I will state that I consider them to be: Vast good luck. Good health; good brain; good mental and muscular correlation. Poverty. Reading Ouida’s Signa at eight years of age. The influence of Herbert Spencer’s Philosophy of Style. Because I got started twenty years before the fellows who are trying to start today.”