There have been few more colorful, individualistic and, in the end, tragic figures in American literature than Jack London.
Born in San Francisco in 1876, London struggled to release himself from the stifling burdens of illegitimacy and poverty. His quest led him on a succession of rugged adventures in far-flung locales.
London first purchased land in the Sonoma Valley in 1905, and continued to add to his holdings until he owned 1,350 acres. The Jack London Ranch is now the site of Jack London State Historic Park, established in 1960 in accordance with the wishes of Charmian.
Before or after your tour of the ranch back country, be sure to make the 1 1/2-mile pilgrimage from the museum/visitors center to Jack London's grave site and to the Wolf House ruins.
Directions to trail head: From Santa Rosa, head east on California 12; from Sonoma, go north on the highway. Take the signed turnoff (Arnold Drive) a mile to the hamlet of Glen Ellen. Turn right on Jack London Ranch Road and proceed 1 1/4 miles to the state park. To visit the museum, turn left; for trail head parking, angle right.
The hike: The path ascends 100 yards southwest through a eucalyptus grove to a trail map display and picnic area. Proceed straight ahead, past an old barn to a dirt road, where you go right.
About half a mile from the trail head, you'll crest a hill and get your first great view of the Valley of the Moon. The trail soon splits: Equestrians go left, hikers go right on a narrow footpath through a forest of Douglas fir, bay laurel and madrone that ascends past some good-sized redwoods.
Lake Trail loops around the Londons' little lake, where the couple swam and entertained friends. This is a good turnaround point for families with young children.
Sonoma Mountain-bound hikers will join the dirt road, Mountain Trail, that curves east to Mays Clearing, another fine vista point offering Valley of the Moon panoramas.
Mountain Trail climbs steadily, crossing two forks of fern-lined Graham Creek en route to Deer Camp, once Jack London's hunting camp, tucked in a grove of redwoods. It's marked "rest area" on the park map.
From there the trail gets steeper, passing beneath big black oaks for another mile to the headwaters of Middle Graham Creek and up to the park boundary.
The park map shows the path ending here; actually, it continues another quarter-mile to the crest of Sonoma Mountain's east ridge. Enjoy the superb views from the summit.
Sonoma Valley Lake and Mountain Trails
WHERE: Jack London State Historic Park.
DISTANCE: To lake, 2 miles round trip; to top of Sonoma Mountain, 8 miles round trip, with 1,800-foot elevation gain.
TERRAIN: Vineyard, forests, meadows.
HIGHLIGHTS: A literary pilgrimage, grand vistas of the Valley of the Moon.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
PRECAUTIONS: Watch out for poison oak. Stay on trails and roads; don't stray onto nearby private property.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, Calif. 95442, (707) 938-5216.