There is nothing like enjoying a good book while on vacation. But what if, rather than plotting the route to your vacation as the end point, the actual trail becomes the vacation?
Partner that trail with purpose, in this case a literary one, you’ve got the perfect mix for a fabulous holiday literary roadtrip!
As Samuel Bowels, newspaper editor of the Springfield Republican, penned 150 years ago in Across the Continent, the first true American road-trip book,
“There is no such knowledge of the nation as comes of traveling in it, of seeing eye to eye its vast extent, its various and teeming wealth, and, above all, its purpose-full people.”
Even better is when you can link a love of literature with a love of Mendonoma.
Recently Atlas Obscura, a collaborative group community of explorers (like you!) created a detailed map of “literatures’ most epic literary roadtrips.” The authors selected 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012), with place-name references and mapped the authors’ routes on top of one another.
To be included, a book needed to meet the following criteria:
- Narrative arc matching the chronological and geographical arc of the trip it chronicles.
- Be non-fictional or at least told in the first-person.
For those of you who can travel afar to personally discover the settings and scenes found in literature this is quite the road map!
Literary Roadtrip through Mendonoma
Included in the roadtrip map is one book with a stop in Mendocino:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig. 1974. The author and his son ride by motorcycle to California; Profound Philosophical Ruminations ensue. In this philosophical fiction Pirsig explores his ideas on Metaphysics of Quality.
“We’re on the Mendocino County coast now, and it’s all wild and beautiful and open here. The hills are mostly grass but in the lee of rocks and folds in the hills are strange flowing shrubs sculptured by the upsweep of winds from the ocean. We pass some old wooden fences, weathered grey. In the distance is an old weathered and grey farmhouse. How could anyone farm here? The fence is broken in many places. Poor.”
Shortly after ‘Zen’ was published, Connie Goldman talked with Robert Pirsig at his home in St. Paul, Minn. Pirsig discusses his process in writing the book, at times working four hours before he arrived for his day job writing technical manuals. Originally broadcast on July 12, 1974.
Other Literary Roadtrips in Mendonoma
Jack London, one of California’s native son, learned in his adult life of the beauty of Sonoma County’s “call of the wild.” It eventually beckoned him and his wife, Charmian, to come here as not only as place to vacation, but one where he would live. They eventually settled in the small town of Glen Ellen.
A literary roadtrip that highlights Jack London would include a visit to Jack London State Park. Also known as Jack London Home and Ranch it this California State Park includes the ruins of a 19th Century Winery, a 2,000 year old Redwood Tree, 14 feet in diameter, and the cottage where Jack London wrote. While the history is an important draw, many are enticed simply by the natural resources. Jack London called it “Beauty Ranch” for good reason. Once you absorb the views from Sonoma Mountain, discover the 80 acres of an historic but still bountiful Orchard or the lake Jack London created, navigate the varied trails, you will know why this is considered one of the gems in this Valley of the Moon.
Sadly while he and his wife lived in a cottage and developed Beauty Ranch, Wolf House, London’s dream house burned to the ground before they could move in. All that is left is the stone work. Trails take you to various outbuildings on the farm, his cottage and London Lake. The visitor center is housed in The House of Happy Walls, Charmian’s home built after he died , houses the visitor center with exhibits about his life. You can also visit the grave sites of London and Charmian.
Things to know before you go:
Dogs: Leashed dogs are welcome in the historic areas of the park, including the trail to the Wolf House ruins. Dogs are not allowed inside any buildings or on the back country trails. Please clean up your pet waste.
Smoking: Due to fire danger, smoking is allowed only in the 2 paved parking lots. Please use the provided ash trays to extinguish all smoking materials and prevent wildfires.
10:00 – 5:00 Museum Hours
12:00 – 4:00 Cottage Hours
$ 5 Walk in or Bicycle in
$49 Annual Pass
Another author with a Sonoma County connection is naturalist and adventure writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Not far from Glen Ellen is the Scottish writer’s hideout now the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park. It is where the famous author of Treasure Island and Kidnapped spent his honeymoon with Fanny in 1880. Shortly after winning the hand of the love his life, Fanny, they moved to Calistoga. Appropriately he used Mt. Saint Helena as the inspiration for Spyglass Hill.
“The woods sang aloud, and gave largely of their healthful breath,” Stevenson wrote of his first ascent up the mountain. “Gladness seemed to inhabit these upper zones, and we had left indifference behind us in the valley. … There are days in a life when thus to climb out of the lowlands seems like scaling heaven.”
It was here where Stevenson would enjoy the healing waters of the natural hot springs. At the time they were just about penniless, the two along with Fanny’s son from a previously failed marriage took over one of the abandoned Silverado mine dwellings. There he spent his days in nature and writing, appropriately, The Silverado Squatters.
Although nothing remains of Stevenson’s cabin, the site is identified on the trail to the summit with a memorial in the form of an open book commemorating the author’s stay on the mountain.
Things to know before you go:
The Stevenson Memorial Trail in the state park is a five-mile hike to the top of Mt. St. Helena from which one can see much of the San Francisco Bay Area with trails to the east leading hikers below the volcanic cliffs of the Palisades. On good days the top of Mt. Shasta can be seen, 192 miles in the distance. It takes you from the parking lot on Highway 29 to the summit of 4,343-foot Mt. Saint Helena. The first mile of the trail switchbacks through a shady single track trail, the latter 4 miles are on well-graded fire roads with very little shade. The last push to the summit is the steepest part of the hike, but offers the best views from the mountain south to the prominent Bay Area peaks, Mounts Diablo and Tamalpais. The steep climb is over quickly, and at 5.6 miles you’ll reach the top. This is a great trail to take on a cooler day as it can be very hot during the summer. The hike to the summit is 10 miles round trip with a 1,800-foot elevation gain. The views are well worth the hike, for a true top-of-the-world experience.
- The park is seven miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29.
- The parking area is shortly after the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park sign.
- The Stevenson Memorial Trail up to Mt. St. Helena is on the left (North) side of the road, and the Table Rock/Palisades trail is on the right (South) side.
- Open daylight hours only.
- There are no bathrooms.
Accessibility: Not accessible.
The best seasons are spring and fall. The winter provides the best vistas, but also the greatest chance of snow and chilling wind.
Where Next on Your Literary Road?
There are many other areas in Northern California and the rest of the state where you may wish to link literature and geography together into your next epic California literary roadtrip. Below is one such map, by Bob Riel (http://www.bobriel.com/):
The Book Lovers Guide for Road Tripping California’s Coast:
Wherever your summer’s reading leads you. We hope you’ll share your literary roadtrip notes here with us.