Day 14: Alcatraz

We were impressed by our visit to Alcatraz. As a ‘visitor experience’ it’s very well done. Considering the National Parks department could probably charge a lot more without putting people off, we thought $26 per person, including the ferry and audio tour, was good value for money.

We made an early start and were on the second boat of the day in order to benefit from shorter queues and a quieter visit. The weather was stunning and we got some good views of San Francisco from the water.

Here are some views of the disembarkation area of Alcatraz island, including informal sign-writing dating back to the 1969 occupation by the United Indians of All Tribes:

The first place you come to on the cell block tour is the gloomy shower block where arriving prisoners were stripped, washed and de-loused. We were just getting our audio tours.

The ‘guide’ for the audio tour is a former guard who explains the history of the island and of the prison while directing you which way to go as you travel around the corridors of the cell block. I think some of the most interesting things were the most mundane – what prisoners ate and testimonies from the guards’ families who lived on the island. The children had to commute to school on the mainland by boat, but had an apparently idyllic childhood!

The cells are even tinier and more oppressive than I imagined. There are some you can go inside, which made me a bit nervous (having seen The Rock).

The only problem with the audio guide was that the narrator was from New Jersey and kept talking about all the prisoners who tried to ‘excape’. Tom said:

“There are only so many times you can hear the word ‘excape’ before you find yourself standing in a crowded cell block shouting ‘it’s escape, you idiot!'”

Unfortunately this led to Tom being incarcerated for breach of the peace!

A view of the cell block from the prisoner exercise yard:

It was surprising how much of the island was derelict – the large parade ground was surrounded by heaps of rubble from demolished buildings and a lot of the island was off-limits. However, some areas you can visit are beautiful gardens which is quite a contrast. The guards and prisoners used to cultivate them.

I particularly loved the agave plants in the garden areas. We’d seen them before in Kings Canyon, but these flower spikes, silhouetted against the sky, were even more dramatic and I took dozens of pictures! I still can’t get over how wonderful the weather was the whole time we were on honeymoon!

Back on the mainland we had a walk around Fisherman’s Wharf and started queuing for a ride on the cable car. Unfortunately hunger got the better of me and we had to go find lunch at In and Out burger. Afterwards, instead of the cable car, we rode one of the vintage trams back to town to pack up and head North to Calistoga in the Napa Valley.

We were rather excited to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and we stopped at the viewpoint on the other side to take some more photos.

Taken from a moving car!

Making use of the nifty 'sweep panorama' feature on my camera. Click for enlargement.

Tom spent ages trying to get a good photo of the American Flag and the California flag, but the wind wasn’t co-operating!

We were sad to leave San Francisco after such a short visit, but we’ll be back one day. And look what was waiting for us in Calistoga:

The date was 14 November 2011. Next day – Day 15: Calistoga.