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Jack London's "dream-ranch" ... today a state park.

Jack London's "dream-ranch' . . . today a state park

"I am building my dream-house on mydream-ranch,' wrote Jack London in 1911. He had already acquired 1,100 acres near the northern California twon of Sonoma, and work was underway on his four-story mansion. He was just 35 years old, but by then he was the country's highest paid author, and one of its most prolific.

The theme behind many of his novels--strong men battling against fate--also played through his life. He had fought his way up from poverty, but ranch costs consumed the earnings from his books (some 53) and short stories. His efforts to build a modern, productive, and efficient farm drew the scorn of his neighbors, who laughed at his innovations. And when he died, his dream house was just a burned-out shell.

Even so, London's Beauty Ranch becamehis own memorial: the heart of his property is now Jack London State Historic Park. Some 40 miles north of San Francisco near the small town of Glen Ellen, the park encompasses 803 acres in the Valley of the Moon.

Come winter, both the tourist crowds andsummer heat have diminished. It's a peaceful time to explore the trails that London rode almost daily, sit by a lake created in part for restorative swims, and see some farm buildings and innovations that were part of his grand vision.

London's farming innovations

Entering the ranch, you hike past some ofthe 65,000 eucalyptus trees London planted in the futile hope of milling future hardwood harvests. Just beyond the picnic area are three sturdy stone barns. The largest, built in 1914, housed his riding horses. The smallest dates from 1884 and was part of a winery he bought out. Between the barns lies the manure pit, to collect fertilizer for the fields.

Beyond, you'll see terracing now plantedin vines. London built the terraces after observing the technique while serving as a war correspondent in Korea. A short trail ascends a hill to the ruins of a winery and the cottage where London and his wife Charmian lived from 1911 until his death in 1916. Here, in a sunny den, London wrote Valley of the Moon and John Barleycorn.

From the winery, you continue on the trailpast twin concrete-block silos (the first in the state), a bull exercise ring, and a piggery so elaborate scoffers called it the Pig Palace.

A mile-long walk leads to the lake andbath house. From here, you can ascend the Mountain Trail about 1/2 mile to a meadow and views, then follow the 1-mile Fallen Bridge Trail loop or hike through madrone, bay, and finally Douglas fir for another 2 miles on the Mountain Trail to a second, more sweeping vista.

Across the road, the park's original 39acres center around the ruins of London's grand mansion, Wolf House, which mysteriously burned just days before London and his wife expected to move in. The mile-long round-trip walk to the site is a moderately easy hike. On the way, you'll pass the House of Happy Walls, built by Charmain London as a memorial to her husband. Now it's a museum, open 10 to 5 daily, housing part of the author's 18,000-volume library as well as artifacts from his travels.

The state and the California State ParksFoundation are working to raise funds for much-needed restoration on the Beauty Ranch buildings. To get information or to make donations, write to the foundation at Box 5668, Larkspur, Calif. 94939.

To reach Jack London State HistoricPark from Sonoma, take State Highway 12 north about 6 1/2 miles to Glen Ellen, then follow signs. The park is open dawn to dusk daily; admission is $2 per car. For more details, call (707) 938-5216.

Photo: Placid waters of manmade lake once irrigated Jack London's 1,500-acre ranch; you can hike around the lake, nestled against the north slope of Sonoma Mountain

Photo: Shaded bybowing eucalyptus, picnic area overlooks vineyard at Beauty Ranch

Photo: Stone shell bleaklyrecalls beauty of London's mansion, which burned before he moved in. Park is 40 miles north of San Francisco, in the Valley of the Moon
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Title Annotation:Jack London State Historic Park, California
Date:Feb 1, 1987
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