Hell & Heaven? Alcatraz & Angel Island

Alcatraz, ‘The Rock’, almost the San Francisco destination, so it was little surprise that we looked to place it on our itinerary.

Now about 3 weeks out from our departure date (one night when we were still working in Sydney) we’d looked online at possible dates for such an endeavor. With plenty available we thought, no problem, lets work it around the day that we get baseball tickets.

A week or so passed, we looked again. Saturday… Sold Out! Sunday… Baseball (and Sold Out!) Monday… Sold Out! Tuesday (our last day in San Francisco)… Sold Out!

We thought lets try the Wednesday… availability on 1 morning tour only, so we snapped them up, adding an extra day to our San Francisco itinerary.

Out of interest we had a look at other availabilities after our purchase, and there was suddenly nothing until July 27th (and by the morning of our tour, August 2nd, about a month later)!

So it was an icy cold morning that saw us board the ferry out to Alcatraz island, a combination of cold wind and fog keeping the temperature down, and us layered up more than we had at any other time on the trip (ok, so we’re only a handful of days in)

'The Rock' looking dark and foreboding on a chilled, foggy morning

‘The Rock’ looking dark and foreboding on a chilled, foggy morning

On arrival at the island, we were all herded into an area (I guess so we could recreate as realistically as possible that prisoner experience) so we could be addressed by the warden, I mean ranger, before then being introduced to a special guest.

Turns out the special guest was one Deirdre Capone, who introduced herself as the niece of the notorious Al Capone.

It came to pass that this was a shameless plug for her book about the ‘real capone’ family. It also came to light when we read the blurb of said book, that she was actually a grand-niece rather than a niece (he died when she was only 7), but still, it seemed to work as later there were plenty of people purchasing a signed copy…

Our intent however, was to get up to the main cell block and experience the self guided audio tour (as told by former guards and inmates).

Taking in the view of seedy street (blocks C & D, hence seedy)

Taking in the view of seedy street (blocks C & D = seedy)

Being able to witness the cramped, cold cells, it was easy to imagine the wind whistling through adding to the miserable nature of incarceration in this place.

Escape attempts were discussed, as well as the tragic loss of life during the 1946 ‘Battle of Alcatraz’ in which 2 guards and 3 inmates were killed (a further 2 were executed after the event).

A combined assault by guards and US Marines was required to recapture the block, with the battle lasting from 2nd-4th of May.

Shrapnel scars from grenades dropped by Marines during the battle

Shrapnel scars from grenades dropped by Marines during the battle

San Francisco and freedom. So close, yet so far away...

San Francisco and freedom. So close, yet so far away…

It was one of the more enjoyable audio tours we’d partaken of, and something I would recommend to all (it wasn’t an additional cost, but was included in the tour price) .

After which, we just wandered the grounds, taking in the fairly bleak surrounds, but also learning of the importance this rock still plays.

The drab surrounds of the recreation yard. from the bleachers the inmates could get a glimpse of San Francisco

The drab surrounds of the recreation yard. from the bleachers the inmates could get a glimpse of San Francisco

For since the guards and inmates have departed, Alcatraz has been taken over exclusively by (with the exception of the 19 month American Indian occupation from 1969-1971) the birds.

A reminder of the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz

A reminder of the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz

Alcatraz is now an incredibly important habitat for many marine birds, which means at various times of the year, parts of the complex normally still open to tourists, are closed to protect these avian inhabitants.

The future generations of Alcatraz

The future generations of Alcatraz

From there we were off to the heavenly named Angel Island.

As we approached with the fog still lingering and that cold wind ever present, it looked anything but angelic!

More mysterious than angelic (and rather chilly)

More mysterious than angelic (and rather chilly)

Angel Island has a multi faceted history, beginning life as a Union fort during the Civil War, and the military presence remained on the island until 1962 when the Nike Missile base there was decommissioned.

Perhaps more famously however, it was known as the Ellis Island of the West. It played a large role as an immigration station, processing, quarantining as well as detaining.

Remains of the old Civil War base, Camp Reynolds

Remains of the old Civil War base, Camp Reynolds

It is one of those sad tales, that when the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, this place became home to thousands of potential immigrants, detained for years, rather than allowed entrance to the USA (the mournful poetry they wrote upon the walls has now been protected as a lasting monument to them).

So this island of apparent Angels, truly served as a hell for many sad, unfortunate souls…

With this sobering final note, we had completed our circuit of the island (the tour was run in a bus like vehicle) and were by now rather cold thanks to that wind whipped off the bay.

We pretty much hit the ground running when the vehicle had stopped, hoping to get to the food kiosk in front of what promised to be a large queue.

A quick bowl of Potato & Onion Soup (with a chunk of corn bread) helped fight the chills, and we were able to relax in relative warmth as the sun came out in the fairly sheltered Ayala Cove (the islands ferry port).

Was it worth the wait, staying an extra day in San Francisco?

Well, the tour was very enjoyable, and later that afternoon we managed to have a good catch-up with Melbourne ex-pat Milli (an old friend of mine from Melbourne) where we got to enjoy, unbeknownst to us, what would be our last hot tea in many weeks…

Warm soup and sunshine in Ayala Cove

Warm soup and sunshine in Ayala Cove

Advertisements
This entry was posted in United States of America and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hell & Heaven? Alcatraz & Angel Island

  1. traciehowe says:

    Glad you managed to snag a tour! I haven’t been there myself, despite several visits to San Francisco. And I didn’t know about Angel Island. Hopefully I will get a chance to visit both next time I’m there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s