Stay close, folks. Lots to cover today!
It’s Sunday. We left home one week ago, and after three nights in a swanky hotel in San Francisco, we’re breaking camp to head in a general easterly direction to begin the trip home.
But we’ve got some unfinished business in San Francisco today. We’ve got a date with Alcatraz.
The first thing that I actually booked for the trip was our Alcatraz tickets. Everyone had said they go fast, and based on our schedule, I picked the first tour of the day on the Sunday we’d be leaving town.
So we were up early and off to the platform on Market Street to catch the trolley:
And yes, the trolleys are antiques, bought from cities around the world and restored and put into service on two lines that run down Market and the Embarcadero.
We waited in line for a bit then caught our ferry ride to the island. And don’t we all look thrilled to be on a boat at 9 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday?
One fun thing: One leg of the America’s Cup World Series sailboat race was being held in the bay that weekend. So even at that early hour, people were getting in position to watch the races:
After a short ride in the ferry, we approached the island:
Now I’ll admit that I’ve never really been interested in Alcatraz, and I wasn’t all that excited to be touring it, but the family really wanted to see it, so I was happy to come along. But I’d never realized the history, or even the structure of things there. Like the fact that the prison itself is only that building at the top of the island. The large building in the foreground here is the barracks–with part of that building built when the island housed a fort during the Civil War, and the rest built later when the fort was expanded to become a military base.
In fact, that stacking of different building areas is apparent here:
You’re looking into the mouth of the entrance to the storage area of the fort. Rooms down there, built into the side of the hill, stored food and ammunition and other supplies for the soldiers. On top of that, they built the barracks later.
But let’s face it. You didn’t come here to see the remains of some Civil War fort, right? Here’s the payoff:
What was truly amazing was how huge and cramped it was all at the same time. Vast, long rows of cell blocks, stacked three high, occupied three different sections of the building. The ceilings of the cells were no more than about seven feet high, and the cells were about six feet wide and about eight feet long.
Oddly, that’s the size of my cubicle at work…Coincidence?
Anyway, part of the price of admission, aside from the ferry ride, is an mp3 player and headphones that talk you through a 90 minute tour of The Rock. For the tour, they interviewed four prisoners and four guards and even the daughter of a guard who lived on the island (as did many families of people who worked there). They walked you through life on the island, life in prison, and some of the notable events.
As part of the tour, you get to go into a cell:
And find out how prisoners passed the time:
Yes, they’d crochet in between shivving sessions…
We got to see the maximum security wing (which seemed a little like an oxymoron in a prison built on an island), along with the solitary confinement cells (those are in the lower right):
And we learned about the riot that lasted for two days in 1946–the so called “Battle of Alcatraz,” where a small group of prisoners managed to overpower a guard, get into the gun gallery and make their way around some of the prison. Read about it at the link above, then come back…
He’re’s the gun gallery where the whole thing started:
And eventually, some Marines were called in to settle things down. They shelled some of the building, made a hole in the roof of a section and dropped in some hand grenades. The detonation scars are still on the floor of that section of the prison:
And finally, we learned about the escape. Three inmates somehow enlarged ventilation holes in their concrete cells:
Once out of the back of the cell, they found themselves in a service shaft that went between two rows of cells:
The theory is that they climbed up and onto the roof, and from there they vanished, likely dying somewhere in the bay. The three men were never found.
We, however, got off the island safely, exiting as directed through the gift shop, and then back onto the ferry for the return trip. We hopped the trolley back to our stop, walked back to the hotel and got the van and our luggage and headed south out of town.
As you noticed, it was a gorgeous day–not even pretending to acknowledge the crap we had to put up with the day before. So, since we drove for a bit along Highway 1–known in some parts of California as the Pacific Coast Highway. On the way, we had one last chance to soak up some time at the ocean.
Once in Santa Cruz, we headed southeast toward Bakersfield, our stop for the night before we entered the desert the next day.
As with all of the picture for this series, you can see larger versions at my Flickr page.
Tomorrow: the Mojave, 104 degrees and Vegas, baby!
See you tomorrow.