An afternoon at the Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen: Look Around
Welcome to Look Around, a new section of Mari Go Round that lets photography drive the narrative. Tune in every week as I visually take you along with me to cool, far-flung attractions, events and happenings in Southern California and beyond. And stay in touch by following me on Instagram!
It’s afternoon when we set off into the woods, politely joining its secret conversations — of birds chirping, of curled leaves crumbling underfoot, of branches slapping against each other, fanned by a strong breeze. Occasionally, we’ll hear the sound of other visitors chatting, and we nod companionably as we pass them. “I love this smell,” Anton says. I widen my nostrils and take a big whiff. Yes, I can smell it, too. It had rained the day before, which lifted an earthy aroma from the ground. This combination of sound and smell makes us feel as though we’re separated from the rest of the world, as though we’re cheating time. And I guess that’s exactly what literary legend Jack London was looking for here.
“When I first came here, tired of cities and people, I settled down on a little farm … 130 acres of the most beautiful, primitive land to be found in California,” he once wrote. Nestled on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, the 1,400-acre Jack London State Park is where you’ll find his grave, along with his second wife, Charmian’s, a cottage they lived in and most notably, the ruins of London’s “Wolf House” — a property he poured so much of his love and money into, only for it to burn down a few days before the couple could move in.
For a man who enjoyed a pastoral environment of beauty and simplicity, the house was certainly an ambitious and modern project. Think: a 15,000 square-foot property with 26 rooms, nine fireplaces, a library, a reflection pool, a wine cellar, a gun room, boasting modern amenities like heating, electricity, refrigeration and so much more. It’s a gargantuan structure, standing like a skeleton of a fish washed ashore. A hundred and eight years of wind and sun has weathered the stone to colors of dark gray, a bruised purple and green.
The remains of the mansion is fenced off, but visitors can walk up a staircase to take a closer look at the interior of what would’ve been the novelist’s dream house. You can also see the blueprints and floor plans, as well as computerized renderings of what the property would’ve looked like. The house is accessible via a mile-long trail, so bring comfortable shoes if you plan on walking there — and you should! (If you’re up for a longer day of hiking, you’ll find 29 miles of backcountry trails that wind their way through the park, with more sites to explore, like London’s piggery (dubbed the “Pig Palace”), a 20th-century dam and a bathhouse.
State park museums are often either a hit or miss, but I’d be remiss not to tell you: You’re going to want to tour this one. I personally loved it because it felt like part-museum, part-house, and it did give you quite a vivid look into London’s life — including his travels, his passion for sailing, his work and his relationship with Charmain. Walking through the museum-slash-house felt like witnessing a bit of a love story. Quotes from both lovers are printed boldly on the walls. Life lessons, really. London’s last words to Charmain, who he loved dearly, sit with me long after I leave, “Thank God, you’re not afraid of anything.”