Outdoors: Jack London's Beauty Ranch to stay open

May 2, 2012 

In barely 40 years Jack London did far more than most people do in twice as many. Largely self-educated and born into fairly humble circumstances, he Horatio Algered himself to prominence and success.

Treating writing as a business and producing hundreds of short stories, articles, and books, he worked at a pace few could match. He served as a war correspondent in both the Boer and Russo-Japanese Wars, participated in the Klondike Gold Rush, and sailed around the world. His avid pursuit of the "strenuous life" and his zeal for adventure and combat invite many parallels with the life of Theodore Roosevelt, his contemporary.

In addition to short stories and novels that are highly regarded and widely read 100 years after his death, he left another great legacy to future generations -- Beauty Ranch, now Jack London State Historic Park.

If London's ranch were only a hiking park, it would be a great one. If it only included the historic buildings and relics of the London family it would still be fascinating. With both features combined, it constitutes one of the best parks in the state -- a place where you can easily spend an entire day.

I made the trip last weekend. The park had been slated to close on July 1 due to budget cuts, but the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association has made a valiant and successful effort to raise funds and take over operations. Other local organizatons are in the process of receiving approval to keep Sugarloaf Ridge, the Petaluma Adobe, and Austin Creek open as well. Sonoma County Parks will taking over the operation of Annadel State Park.

If you go, plan your visit for a weekend. Jack and Charmain London's cottage is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. Parking at the "upper lot," you can walk a two-mile loop that includes the cottage, buildings and barns that remain from London's farm, and an oak and redwood ringed pond where the Londons and their guests swam. If you have less time you can cut a mile off walking by visiting only the cottage and the farm. The cottage is restored as it would have appeared during the time of the Londons and Jack's office is the kind of room that might inspire you to write your own novel.

After your walk, park at the "lower lot" and walk an additional 1.2-mile loop to the striking ruins of Wolf House, a 26-room stone and redwood mansion that burned to the ground shortly after it was completed. The towering stone shell is one of the most picturesque ruins you'll find anywhere. The park provides transportation to the site for guests who aren't up to the walk. Back at the parking lot is the "House of Happy Walls," a smaller but no less interesting home that Charmain built after Jack's death. Today it is a museum depicting their lives and adventures. It is open Friday-Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

If you're up for a more strenuous walk, the park has over 30 miles of trails. From London Lake, you can walk an additional 2 miles to the top of Sonoma Mountain for excellent views of the park and the Sonoma Valley. Combined with a visit to the cottage and the farm, it makes a loop of about 6 ½ miles. Horses and bikes are welcome on many of the trails.

To learn more, go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=478 or call (707) 938-5216. The park is located on London Ranch Road in Glen Ellen. Follow the signs from Highway 12 to the entrance gate. The day use fee is $8/car.

Adam Blauert can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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