Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
from the trenches
Off the Grid Volume 62 Number 1, January/February 2009
by Adrian Praetzellis

If you're heading to northern California, Sonoma State University archaeologist Adrian Praetzellis recommends a stop at Jack London State Historic Park.

The Site: In 1905 The Call of the Wild author Jack London moved from Oakland (which he despised) to the hills above Sonoma County's Valley of the Moon. He spent the rest of his life there writing best sellers and tending to his beloved 1,400-acre Beauty Ranch, which he also called "The Ranch of Good Intentions." Archaeological surveys of the ranch, now a state historic park, have revealed a number of early 20th-century structures, including a bunkhouse for field hands, as well the London family trash dump.

What to See: "Apart from writing all the dog stories, London was also a pioneer in what you might call organic farming," says Praetzellis. "He was one of the first to try terracing crops in California, and you can still see traces of them on the landscape." A number of ranch buildings survive, including London's enormous rock and concrete piggery (dubbed the "Pig Palace"), with individual "hog suites" for each pig. But the park's main attractions are the ruins of Wolf House, a four-story mansion that was gutted by fire in 1913, just a few weeks before London and his wife were to move in.

Before You Go: "Read some Jack London to get ready," advises Praetzellis. "The Call of the Wild is good, but also try to find his novel The Valley of the Moon. His essay 'The House Beautiful' shows how London's socialist philosophy shaped Beauty Ranch."

Keep in Mind: Fans of White Fang might be disappointed to learn that dogs are not allowed on the park's backcountry trails, some of which feature great views of the Valley of the Moon. But, appropriately, horseback riding is permitted. One of London's poems about the ranch includes the lines "I am the sailor on horseback!/Try to dream with me my dreams of fruitful acres."