All birthdays are good, but this year mine was the best, because Jack London State Park digital tour’s soft release date coincided with it, on Aug. 6. So, while I ate cake on my deck, I also downloaded the app and took the tour. And it was both informative and enjoyable.
The digital app is part of a new breed of self-guided smart phone-based tours that includes virtual holographic guides—in this case Jack London and his wife Charmian London themselves—who speak to the viewer on their phone screen, appearing as if they are in front of the landscape said viewer’s phone camera is pointed at. It’s unlike any app I have previously used, and the experience reminds me of a toned-down version of the time I donned a virtual reality headset.
Kristina Ellis, tours and education manager at Jack London State Historic Park, managed the project in partnership with Timelooper Inc., which developed the app.
“My job was to research and develop the storyline and script, gather resources like historic photographs and information on the historic structures [and] find actors for the holograms,” she told me. “This is a new and interactive way for visitors to engage with the story of the park and sort of take a step back in time. The virtual tour is comprised of 10 different tour stops located throughout the park, and combines exciting elements like digital animation, holograms of Jack and Charmian London, historic photographs, 3D augmented-reality models of the famous Wolf House and more.”
Jack London State Park, located on 1,400 acres near Glen Ellen on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, was founded on London’s own Beauty Ranch in 1959.
“While we are an historic park, rich in artifacts and stories, we also have nearly 29 miles of gorgeous wilderness trails dotted with coastal redwoods,” Ellis said. “I recommend that visitors see the House of Happy Walls Museum and the London’s Cottage to truly get a picture of Jack London’s life and story. We also have excellent docents who lead free tours to the Wolf House on weekends.”
“The app was designed as a guided tour of the park, and the experience is maximized by being here,” she added. “However, there are quite a few elements such as video clips, slide shows of historic photos, story narration and the 3D models and animations that can be enjoyed anywhere. I have enjoyed the tour from the comfort of my living room and gotten quite a bit out of the story.”
Enter moi. By simply scanning my deck with my cell phone camera, a virtual reality table appeared on it in my iPhone’s viewscreen; it was on this table that buildings and animations—and sometimes Jack London himself—manifested as 3-dimensional holograms. I was led through an interesting and informative history that began with an explanation of how immigrant Chinese workers wound up working for local wineries and that ended well beyond London’s death at Beauty Ranch many years later. Atmospheric music accompanied each point.
As a lifelong history buff, I found the tour illuminating and learned about London’s non-literary interests, which I’d heretofore been unaware of. One video seemed to sum both he and his primary interests up with the narration, “Jack saw his ranch as an outdoor laboratory for experimentation and innovation in sustainable farming, a place that could teach the nation how to farm organically.”
I won’t describe the tour in further detail; that would spoil everyone’s fun. My advice: Download the free CalParks Adventurer app, which is available online at app stores everywhere, right now, and take the tour pronto. At the park or at home? Both are worth the price of admission.
For more information about the new augmented reality tour app, visit www.jacklondonpark.com/digital-tour-experience/.