There was something about the prison and quiet lighthouse on that lonely rock out in the middle of San Francisco Bay that beckoned me.
It was still early in the tourist season, so I was able to purchase tickets for my son, sister and me just a few days ahead of time to be ferried over to Alcatraz Island. Boarding the ferry was quickly done and we were soon offloaded onto the Rock.
After a quick introduction and safety discussion given by a National Park Services officer, we were sent off for the long walk up, up, up to the prison. We entered into the cellhouse, were shown where new inmates were given showers and their prison garb, and handed audio tours.
The audio tours were fun and informative. We were quickly ushered from area to area, learning as we went along. I was unfamiliar with the several Alcatraz escape attempts, so it was interesting to hear many of these stories. We were able to see where one of the attempts unfolded within the penitentiary, right down to the shrapnel scars on the walls. Additionally, we also learned of the failed Indian takeovers of the Island after the prison was closed. So much history to learn in so little time.
During the tour, we were able to experience what the prisoners lived through in their days/weeks of solitary confinement. Being in one of those cells for a minute was disconcerting. How the inmates survived this torture is unimaginable. Learning how inmates coped with their generally confined and regimented lives by playing sports, painting and reading must have gone a long way in each of them maintaining their sanity.
One of the highlights of the trip were the gardens on the island. All I can say is that they are spectacular! Volunteers donating their time were diligently working on planting and weeding numerous beds–I wanted to kneel down right next to them and get to work.
We spent hours walking the buildings and the grounds. I was surprised at how well the buildings have stood up over time. There was even an ex-inmate on the island selling his book that was chatting with patrons of the store. It was a very fog-filled day, so the views from the island were less than perfect. However, I felt that the mist added to the mystique of the island.
Alcatraz Island is a “must-see” when visiting San Francisco. That it’s part of the National Parks system is an added bonus.