Nov 30, 2009 - Alberta, California, Canada, Travel, USA    3 Comments

Travels Without Miranda, #2: Alcatraz Island, California

Alcatraz Island is breathtakingly beautiful in a barren and desolate sort of way, architecturally graceful ruins blending in perfectly with scrub grasses, trees, and various flowers. Birds abound and, in fact, most of the island is white with guano. It is a stark, foreboding place, but truly beautiful. Some might think me crazy to find that place so pretty, but it is if you like ruins that blend in so thoroughly with their natural surroundings that you could not possibly imagine one without the other, then Alcatraz is the place for you.

I spent a sunny day touring the ill-famed Rock. Even though it houses one of the most notorious US jails and was the site of native protests, today the island is a peaceful bird sanctuary that belies the supposed horrors that went on between the crumbling walls of the prison.

The architectural details of the place are striking, showing an aesthetic that belies the purpose of the building. Add the surprising mint green and baby pink colour scheme and Alcatraz does not even remotely look as you would expect it would.

As it turns out, the prison’s reputation was not entirely warranted. I learned there that inmates actually tried to get transferred to Alcatraz as it was a more comfortable prison with some of the best food in the penal system. This is not to say that some of the stories that have come out of Alcatraz are not true; it was a brutal place housing hardened criminals, but there was a softer side to the Rock.

I had expected that I would return from my day on Alcatraz completed drained rather than refreshed, and instead learned that I should never assume anything, a lesson I applied during a humbling visit of the town of Banff.

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  • I stayed in an RV park in Vallejo several years ago as there is nothing any closed to SF. There is a walk on ferry from Vallejo to Fisherman’s Wharf that takes you right past Alcatraz Island and this is the route I took for two days of walking around downtown SF. It is one of my regrets that I never took the Alcatraz tour. I shall rectify this one day!

  • Alcatraz is one of those places you just *have* to visit. I recommend allowing for a full day there. How it works is that you book passage on a ferry that leaves SF at a specific time, but you can come back on any ferry during the day. Once there, it’s a self-guided audio tour.

    Bring a lunch!

  • […] This is a print of a wax pastel drawing of Alcatraz Island. I picked it up for a song my first night in San Francisco and discovered many days later that Alcatraz truly is that beautiful. […]

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