Touring The Rock – Alcatraz
Rving has allowed us to see so many interesting places that we normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to see. Having our Car Dolly behind the RV let’s us tour major cities like San Francisco that I wouldn’t want to drive the RV into.
One of the many things that makes San Francisco unique is Alcatraz, also know as “The Rock”. The island is located 1.5 miles offshore in the frigid waters of the bay. It was developed as a lighthouse, then turned military fortification, then a military prison, a federal prison, and finally a tourist attraction.
We parked at famous Fisherman’s Wharf which is just a few blocks north of Pier 33 where the boat takes off. Parking in this area can be expensive (typically $30) but they have an early bird special in many of the ramps and it’s only $10 if you get there before 10:00. It’s a beautiful walk along the Bay.
We took an 8:45 boat ride which was the earliest because tourists keep coming all day and we wanted to view it with the least amount of people. It also worked in our favor because there wasn’t much of a line to get on the boat but when we got off the boat after our tour the line had hundreds of people in it.
It’s a quick but beautiful 12 minute boat ride to the island. It offers great views of the bay. You can choose to sit comfortably inside the boat or go on the outside and take pictures. You can buy food in the boat’s cafe which was great because we drove from Point Reyes Seashore and didn’t stop to eat in case we hit traffic and would be late.
When we first arrived on the island you notice the beauty and we commented on how it would have been a beautiful place to be locked up. After hearing the stories of the inmates they didn’t see it as a beautiful vacation. They all saw it as a tease. As an inmate you were four rights: food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, and NOTHING else.
This was a heavily fortified military site since the only way into the bay was past the 105 canons and 200 military personnel. It never had to fire it’s guns but it did hold confederate sympathizers during the civil war as prisoners.
Due to the 1906 earthquake many civilian prisoners were transferred here to be held. It wasn’t until 1933 that it became a full blown Federal Prison. It was designed to keep the inmates who caused trouble at other federal prisons. They had three guards for every one prisoner. It held some of the most ruthless and notorious criminals of its time.
“Break the rules, you go to prison. Break the prison rules, and you go to Alcatraz.”
During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held some of the most notorious criminals in American history, such as Al Capone, Robert Stroud (the birdman psychopath) Machine Gun Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Mickey Cohen, and many more.
Surprisingly the inmates said the food was pretty good. Except for the spaghetti, they revolted and flipped all the tables over because of the spaghetti. One cock of the machine gun from the guard quickly calmed things down and brought back order in this dining hall.
There have been 36 escape attempts and the National Park Service claims that no one ever successfully escaped. However there is much debate around this. I recently watched a National Geographic documentary that new evidence has been discovered that one escape of 3 people may have been successful. Do you notice the grate underneath the sink? The 3 people that escaped used spoons to cut an area around this grate to execute a plan for over a year in the making. They all built fake bodies to put in their beds with plaster heads and real hair. They then went through the grate, climbed up a 3 inch pipe to the roof. Blew up a man made raft and headed out to Angel Island, never to be seen again.
Every person who visits Alcatraz should take the self guided Audio Tour. I expected that I either would be wondering around not knowing what I was looking at or I would have to follow around a Park Ranger fighting to hear what they had to say. It’s the best of both world’s. You get to go at your own pace with a high tech audio recorder they issue you for free. But the best part is you don’t hear the stories from a park ranger, you hear them from the prisoners and guards themselves!!
The cells were tiny and if you got put in Solitary they put you in the dark for a week.
It’s fitting as you leave the island you see the American Flag after all the American History.