Tour of Alcatraz

On Thursday we headed in to the city for our scheduled tour of Alcatraz. If you’re in the area and want to visit Alcatraz you should definitely book ahead, because the tours are fill up usually well ahead of time. And with it being spring break they were all booked. With the last two days being long ones, first Bonnie’s flight being delayed by about three hours coming in Tuesday night. And then getting up early on Wednesday we took it easy and didn’t leave the RV till around eight. In the morning even though it’s only about 30 miles it takes anywhere from an hour to two to get in to town, traffic is always terrible in the San Francisco area. Our guide Jeffrey on the city tour says it’s the fourth most congested traffic city in the US, and I believe it to be so. When you come into the city and have to cross the bridges and pay the tolls everything gets backed up plus there’s just thousands of cars. It’s not as bad heading back out of town because you do not have to stop for tolls but it’s still crazy. Today we came in on Highway 80 which is considered the Bay Bridge. It’s a very impressive suspension bridge with the total span of 5 miles from one end to the other. It does cross over a small island called “Treasure Island” which has quite a few businesses and some great views across the bay. Here’s a few photos of the bridges as went across them. This is the first suspension portion as you approach Treasure Island.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it’s a different kind of suspension the rest of the way as you come into the city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking back the way we came as we came off the ramp.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a little over two hours before the ferry would leave on our 11:30 tour boat to Alcatraz. So we had time to find parking and do a little exploring, we stopped at Pier 39, one of many of the peers in the fisherman’s wharf area.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a pier with many restaurants and shops. It also is a good spot the view the local sea lions. I had seen more than my share of sea lions in the San Diego area. But this was one of the things on Bonnie’s bucket list. So we had a make sure to get a look. What they do here in town is actually build them rafts so they have place to hang out, they don’t have a rocky shoreline to sit on in the bay like they do on the coast, and they come in and take advantage of it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThroughout San Francisco you’ll find these hearts painted with all kinds of different designs commissioned by a local artist to represent the city. It’s much like the cow statues back in Wisconsin. Here’s one that was out on the pier.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother cool thing on the pier is a fancy double-decker carousel, which the kids were enjoying being on spring break.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were off to a few piers away, to Pier 33 to get on our boat to Alcatraz. There’s only one fleet that shuttles people back and forth Alcatraz and they limit the number of people so it doesn’t get overly congested on the island. Each ferry holds a couple hundred people.  They leave every half hour and you can come back at any time. But even with all of that I think there’s about 10 times the number of people on the island is when it was used as a federal penitentiary. On the ride out we got some great views of the island. It was a partly cloudy and nice day.DSC_0150OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a glimpse of Golden Gate Bridge as we headed out to the island.DSC_0153As you pull up to the dock you can see what a rugged and isolated environment this was but still so close to the hustling city across the bay.DSC_0167As you leave the dock you get greeted by this sign.DSC_0169As you see in the previous photo there’s some graffiti saying “Indians Welcome”. In the 70s there was a period of several months that Native Americans occupied the island. They were trying to take it back as tribal lands. It would’ve been a prime piece of real estate with a great value but it wasn’t meant to be. Over the years Alcatraz was a military fort, a military prison during the Civil War times and now a National Monument with a great history, and with thousands of visitors every year. Here’s some more graffiti left by the Indians on the water tower. These markings were left up as a representation of the history of the island.DSC_0179What we headed up towards the main buildings, it was a pretty quick assent.DSC_0174DSC_0176When you get to the main cell building, you can pick up an audio tour of the island that is about 45 minutes long. It does a great job of guiding you through the cellblock and history of when this was a federal penitentiary. Alcatraz was a federal penitentiary for only 29 years closing its doors on March 21, 1963. The audio tour is very well done with former guards and prisoners narrating throughout the presentation. And it’s a good way to keep the people moving through the main prison building. The prison consists of three floors of cells and four cellblocks.DSC_0188The cells are small and dingy with very little natural light.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSC_0182Alcatraz was never filled to capacity. The average number of prisons was approximately 260 with the lowest being 220 and the highest being 320. Cells blocks “B” and “C” had a total of 360 cells and were considered the general population. “A” block was not used during the time that it was a federal penitentiary. In “D” Block consisting of 42 cells was the isolation session. These cells were for solitary confinement and had no bars or windows. Here’s what one look like.DSC_0194As you can see by this one with Bonnie in it, they were not a big spaces and when the door was closed it was completely dark.DSC_0193Here’s a couple photos of the exercise yard where the prisoners “if they were in good standing” could spend a few hours every day. You can see why even in the harshest weather they wanted to be out in daylight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe grassy area in this photo was a baseball diamond.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlcatraz is home to the first lighthouse in the San Francisco area and would guide sailors through the mouth of the bay safely into the harbor. The lighthouse keepers’ house is long since been destroyed but the tower still stands strong and it’s used today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSC_0208DSC_0210As you walk around the island there are sections with scaffolding where renovations are being done.DSC_0216That are constant renovations being performed, here they’re working on the main prison building and have it covered with plastic sheeting during the renovations as not to be as big of distraction.DSC_0211Also there beautiful views of the city and the surrounding bay, here’s a panoramic view looking back at San Francisco.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a couple close-ups from the island looking at the Golden Gate Bridge with the freighter coming in to the bay.DSC_0213OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a couple photos from the island, of the Bay Bridge that we came in on in the morning.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSC_0206As you walk around the island you get to admire the beautiful gardens that are kept up by volunteers.

Here’s some close-ups of some of the flowers. There were a lot in bloom but more to come soon.

Many of the guards and their families lived on the island full-time and had their own little sections away from the prisoners. Where they live in either houses or apartments. For them the island was a beautiful and quiet place to be, but not so much for the prisoners. They had great views looking back to the city and it was a peaceful place to raise a family. Here’s a view zoomed in on the Palace Of Fine Arts (from the island), that was in my last post.DSC_0160Here’s one of the many commercial piers and Telegraph Hill in the background, with the Coit Tower on top of it. I will have more about that in the next post.DSC_0154Other parts of the island are cordoned off as bird sanctuaries, were hundreds of nesting birds congregate every year.DSC_0234This was a very interesting tour and we spent a good three hours on the island. We could have spent even more time enjoying its beauty, but there’s so much more the check out in the area. It’s an interesting and beautiful area, what has lots of history and I strongly recommend visiting it if you’re in the area. And definitely plan plenty of time to explore this interesting place. That’s it for this post more to come soon, Rick

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4 thoughts on “Tour of Alcatraz

  1. I had no idea that the guards families lived on the island! I don’t think I would like it – I think I’d be creeped out! I guess they shut it down as a prison b/c people escaped? We know a couple that did a midnight tour – they said it was VERY creepy!

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  2. Glad to you to see Alcatraz, Tom and I did not get to take a tour, didn’t know we needed to schedule in advance. We also didn’t get to do the cable cars, guess we’ll have to return someday! Looks like you two had lots of fun once again. So a month more of exploring before your gig at the lighthouse, have fun.

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