A Favorite Spot

Jack London State Park

Kindly contributed by Terri Peterson Smith, author of Off the Beaten Page and a writer after our own hearts. Her excellent guide to literary sites across the U.S. is ideal for book clubs and small groups looking to plan a trip around their favorite books. The thoroughly researched book includes practical advice for planning stress-free group travel, recommended reading, essays describing each destination’s literary heritage and suggested three-day itineraries curated around popular and classic literature. You can learn more at www.offthebeatenpagetravel.com.

 

I developed a serious crush on a guy during my last vacation.  Jack was handsome, well-traveled, fearless and very smart.  I loved his “lefty” politics. What a smile, what a writer.

Credit: Huntington Library

Jack—Jack London—died about 100 years ago. Still, riding on horseback or hiking around the 1400 acres of forest, lakes, mountains, vineyards and historic buildings of London’s “Beauty Ranch”—now Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen, California—I felt as if I might see him every time I crested the next hill.  In 1991, his 88-year-old daughter, Becky, told the Los Angeles Times, “His presence is very strong.  He loved it up here.”

Before he settled on this Sonoma County ranch in 1911, London penned Call of the WildWhite Fang and countless other adventure stories that made him the most famous and highly paid writer of his time. He had traveled the world as a journalist and photographer, but this was his favorite place on earth, and he described the journey here in his novel The Valley of the Moon. He wrote, “I ride over my beautiful ranch. Between my legs is a beautiful horse. The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain, wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive.” How could I resist?

I had gone to Glen Ellen, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, mainly to taste great wine and farm-to-table food, and to stay at a B& B on a working ranch, Beltane Ranch. The park was a side trip to indulge my love of the outdoors and all things literary. Turns out, it offered a taste of heaven on both counts.

Few parks bear such a dramatic cultural legacy: the charred shell of his magnificent dream house, Wolf House, that went up in flames before he could move in; the buildings of his experimental farm including the famous Pig Palace; the cottage where London wrote and died; and the House of Happy Walls that his wife, Charmian, built after his death. Her home is now a museum where the handsome face of Jack London (who looks strikingly like John F. Kennedy) gazes out from photos.  Visitors find first edition volumes of his 53 books, his Socialist commentaries and memorabilia that ranges from boxing gloves and fencing gear to a costume he obtained from Pacific islanders that is made of human hair.

Nearly 100 years after his death in 1916 at age 40, London remains a larger-than-life character. He’s an inspiration not just for his literary accomplishments, but also for a short life packed with exotic travel and swashbuckling adventures in places such as the Yukon, the South Pacific and Europe. His Beauty Ranch is more alive than ever, too, with classes, musical events, weddings and the spirit of Jack London.

Jack would love to know there’s still a party going on at his ranch.

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