Roadtrippin'

Day #17 – WCA – San Francisco: Alcatraz Tour & Pier 39 (July 9, 2019)

Mileage Driven: 8 miles + ferry rides

Points of Interest: Alameda Ferry to downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz, Pier 39

Oh yay! This day has finally come! I made our Alcatraz tour reservations back in early May and have been so looking forward to this time way before then! After getting advice from our host as to where we would be the most safe parking the truck and which ferry we should take into Pier 33 in San Francisco, we headed out of the marina. Another night of no incident on the truck so things were looking really good as only one more night left here in Oakland.

Warning: This will be a LONG post as I have alot to share about about Alcatraz and so many cool pictures so grab your favorite cup of Joe, a snuggly blanket and enjoy!

Ok, if you are trying to decide which ferry to leave from to head in to SF, here are the two near Oakland and it was recommended that the Alameda Ferry Dock was better so we headed there to start our next adventure.

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Here is a fare summary for one way but I would always check before your trip to make sure nothing has changed. We only bought one way going into the city as I wasn’t sure if we would leave from another pier to head home. We had never ridden the ferry so we didn’t know the process but it was super easy. You arrive at the ferry station, wait in line and then once on board, you pay for the fare and they give you a receipt which will be collected as you exit the ferry to prove you bought one. They do accept credit cards and cash so no worries if you only have credit card.

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Here is the ferry schedule for us this week, but again, check online to make sure to get the most up to date schedule. Note that weekend and weekdays schedules are different.

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After getting all that worked out, we boarded and off we went. The ferry was full of morning commuters heading to work and many had their bikes with them which was a smart way to get around the city. There was food and drinks for sale on the short 15 minute ferry ride.

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It was foggy as we pulled into the station which was a huge bummer as the Golden Gate was completely hidden….I mean they told us it was “over there” but there was nothing there. Such a bummer as this was our only day in the city before we head to Yosemite, so this was our chance to see her in all her grand glory. I told the boys that they could now come back with their future brides or own families to come and see the bridge with them for the first time. 🙂 I am more of a forest, mountain, less people type gal but I know the boys love cities so knew they would enjoy coming back here in the future.

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We pulled into Gate G station and were immediately swept up in the masses heading to the main street to start walking to Pier 33, the location of the Alcatraz Landing.

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Seeing this view of downtown now as a picture, it reminds me of the sky line they created for New York New York Casino in Vegas where we just stayed recently on this trip, minus the fog of course.

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What a welcome sight! I love how these vendors are set up all along the street as business people hurried to work mixed with tourists leisurely strolling the streets…I had to try me some Sight Glass Coffee made right there before we began our 1 mile stroll to the Alcatraz area. It was soo yummy and the guy working behind the counter was pretty chill too….a good way to start out the morning. As we walked away from the coffee tent, we passed people also selling fruits and vegetables, some delicious looking pastries and other things that looked scrumptious! The boys voted to wait for nourishment and eat at the Alcatraz Cafe at the Pier.

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Food wasn’t the only thing we got to see as we walked towards Pier 33…this was pretty cool and great advertising for this skateboard shop! So, if you have any extra skateboards lying around, now you know what you can do with them!

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These signs along the route helped us to know how far pedestrians are from the nearby attractions. Very appreciative especially from us out-of-towners!

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And we made it. It was perfect weather as the overcast skies helped keep the temperature very pleasant and fun to be in. For those that didn’t realize it, Alcatraz is owned by the US National Park Service.

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By this point, I had some coffee in me but the poor guys hadn’t had anything to eat or drink so now that we made it successfully about 30 minutes before our check in time, we had time to grab some deli breakfast food and explore the Alcatraz gift shop in the cafe.

After we ordered our food, it was funny and gross at the same time as the pigeons were just flying around the cafe and sitting on the tables…don’t they carry some diseases that we probably don’t want? Ha! No one seemed to mind around us, except for us. I would shoo it away, and it would come back. So if you are walking in the city and need a snack or coffee make sure you stop into the cafe here and the gift shop is open the public as well even if you don’t have Alcatraz tour reservations.

 

As you wait to get in line for your boarding time, there is a great large replica of the prison that you can meander around and read about specific parts of the prison that you will be seeing shortly on the tour. This was great to see and review to refresh our minds so that we would know more of what we were walking in when we got there so make sure to stop and look at this replica. This is also open to the public so you can just walk by to see it without tickets to Alcatraz.

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Loved this map and key as well and saving this for future reference as I continue to read books and historical notes on Alcatraz after the trip. 🙂

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Finally 11:30am comes and our ferry is ready for us to board….I can hardly contain my excitement!

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Let’s get this show on the road!!! Our chariot awaits!

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It is soo fun being a tourist and exploring famous landmarks once in a while! Normally I like the hikes to the waterfalls that no one goes to or the taking the trails that lead away from the people, but the energy for this day was high in our family unit! 🙂

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As the ferry carried us away from the bustling city and we gazed towards the stern……

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…we soon saw this view at the bow of the bow! Yay! Just imagine what it would have felt like for the inmates knowing this could be the last time they ever felt the rocking of a boat, or the strong wind pushing against their faces as their long term new home comes more clearly into view with every lap of the next wave….a view of uninviting buildings on a rock in the middle of rip tides, freezing water and strong currents and a 5X8 cell made of concrete and steel waiting with their names on it! Que the shivers up and down the spine!

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Just doesn’t have a very warm and fuzzy feeling, does it? *Shiver*

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More on that water tower in the distance shortly….keep reading. 🙂

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Welcome to Alcatraz!

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As we pull up, this is what welcomes us….12 acres of hell for many of those that did time at this prison. Keep reading to see the history on the ‘Indians Welcome’ graffiti.

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Once you land, there is a NPS Ranger that will welcome you and give you a quick orientation on the island and announce some park rules while touring around. You can purchase a great Alcatraz pamphlet for $1 when you arrive. I strongly suggest you fork over the money and grab one or two. The very daunting guard tower still stands tall as if watching over the property.

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Now onto the history behind what is written on the water tower and on the front penitentiary sign. “Peace and Freedom Welcome”. Read the sign pictured below.

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You will have to forgive me as I am going to post alot of pictures now because this prison history is soo cool and I want you to be able to see it all!! Then you must go to see it for yourself! Here we go….enter into the gates of Alcatraz!

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When you first walk in, you see on your immediate right the prisoner gear issue station where each prison went first to be assigned everything they would be allowed to have during their stay at Alcatraz. The sign above this area states “After showering, inmates collected their prison-issue clothing from the caged area here below. Once dressed in Alcatraz blues, convicts were marched into the general population cells on the floor above this area.

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You can see the shower area in the picture below which is directly in front of this clothing issue station. Prisoners knew no privacy on Alcatraz for sure! There were 40 showers and they originally are said to have had stalls but they were removed in 1950 so the guards on duty could have better visibility of the inmates and the activities that would go on in that area as assaults during showering time was common when the stalls were up. Inmates showered twice a week. 🙂

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No privacy indeed!

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What was so exciting was that as you came around the shower area to the stairs that led up to the main prison cell area, you were given a great audio device which would guide your walk through the whole building…explaining what happened, when and with whom as you got to the audio numbered stop points. This was soo great and much more interesting than just walking through the prison solely looking at things and at times not knowing much about what you were looking at. The use of the audio device shown below is part of your admission fee when you purchased the tour online.

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Whoa!!! Now this was a cool and eerie sight! The likes of Machine Gun Kelley walked these halls and looked up to the second floor just like I was here! I could imagine in my mind what it would have been like to be a new inmate having to walk this line for the first time, hearing all the yelling, calls out to them, threats and so much more. Yikes!

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And then maybe the new inmate felt a small sense of relief when they got to their cell and the door closed them in…safe for a moment from all that was around them…but how long would they feel safe? Here is what you got…a rack with a mattress, a toilet, a small sink and a table…that’s it. Home sweet home.

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After you get a great tour of more of the cells and how an inmate may have “decorated” while there, the tour takes you into the dining hall. Now my senses were on overload as I listened to the audio talk about food riots and imagining the voices, conversations, hopes and plan being secretly discussed about “getting out without the screws knowing about it”, etc. The smells of food and the clangs of the utensils being used and trays being set down on the once present tables.

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It was cool too because the remnants of the tear gas capsules mounted on the ceiling are still there to this day inside the dining hall in case they had to subdue the inmates. See the picture below…you can see three of them mounted in the picture below.

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Then when you walk into the large dining hall, head to the back of the room and you will be able to see into the kitchen area with the menu from 1963 still posted for the inmates to see completed with steamed wheat, scrambled eggs, fruit, etc. Yummy! 🙂

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If you look closely in between the bars, you will see some pots hanging on the wall and then a knife cabinet…you will see that they painted the location of each knife and the shape so that they could easily see if a knife was missing!

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After you get done exploring this area, you leave the dining hall and head to D Block area which houses solitary confinement.

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You will notice a difference in the cell in D Block as the toilet doesn’t look like a household toilet and is mounted more securely to the ground and there is no table inside.

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It is here where the intimidating solitary confinement area is…when the door is shut, it is soo dark in there! Trust me! I am sure whoever was sent to SC, never forgot the number of the one they were kept in.

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If you see, there is a barred door inside the outside door so that the guards could open the outside door to let more light into the slot for prisoner should they so choose to and it also kept everyone walking by at a distance to really make the prisoner feel isolated. There was no bed in this area during the tour.

This area was called “the slot”, “the hole” and many other names. These 6 closed front cells were used to house the more severe disciplinary problem inmates. They were often times punished with complete darkness for extended periods of time and a very restricted diet. Prisoners were also only given limited clothing and so the cell was reported as being very cold in the winter time. Getting sent to the hole usually lasted several days but never more than 19 days.

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Read an actualy account of Alcatraz prisoner, Jim Quillen, as he describes his 19 day stay in the hole below: (Quote Source: Inside Alcatraz: My Time on the Rock by Jim Quillen, publisher Century) You can purchase this book here:

By Jim Quillen

A day in the hole was like an eternity. The day would start at 6:30am when the lights were turned on and a nerve-jangling bell was rung. This was soon followed by a guard unlocking the solid outer soundproof door and shouting for you to stand up. A short time later, a tray was passed through to you. This was your morning meal.

 

Although one received the same food as the normal prisoners, it was all dumped together in an unappetizing lump. Bread was buried in the oatmeal, prunes dumped on top, and no milk or sugar was allotted. A cup of coffee completed the meal.

 

After approximately twenty minutes your tray was collected. You would be instructed to roll up your bedding and set in the three-foot space separating the inner and outer doors. The guard would open a metal peep slot and watch until you complied. Once you were back inside the inner door, it was relocked and the lights were turned off, leaving you in total darkness for the remainder of the day, except for meals.

 

There was nothing in the cell except a metal bed frame, a toilet, a sink, and you. There was total silence. It was also very cold, because of the limited clothing you were allowed. Inmates were given a pair of shorts, socks, and coveralls. These were inadequate to keep one warm, because the steel walls and floor of the cell retained the cold.

 

Worse than being cold, though, was the feeling of total isolation from the world. Being unable to see or hear is an awful experience for someone who has no physical impairment. Since total silence and darkness were to be my constant companions for twenty-four hours of each day of solitary confinement, it was imperative to find a way to keep my mind occupied. I invented a game simply to retain my sanity. I would tear a button from my coveralls, then fling it into the air, turn around in circles several times, and, with my eyes closed, get on the floor on my hands and knees and search for the button. When it was found, I would repeat the routine, over and over until I was exhausted, or my knees were so sore I could not continue.

When I could no longer hunt the button, I would pace back and forth between the toilet and the door. I would continue these routines until evening, but if it weren’t for the interruption of meals, it would have been easy to confuse night and day.

After the evening meal, the bedding was returned and I would hope to fall asleep quickly. Nineteen consecutive days was the maximum time an inmate could be confined in solitary. If he behaved, he was not usually returned. If he still persisted in creating a problem, he was taken out, fed, allowed to brush his teeth, and then returned for another nineteen days.

Usually, nineteen days were sufficient.

I served my nineteen days and was moved into regular segregation. The days seemed endless. Because of the lack of activity, it was so easy to fall into a state of depression, brought about by our natural instinct to think back to better times of the past.

Nothing could blot out the knowledge of what and where you were, or the certainty that this was all that life held for you. Man was never intended to live as a caged animal; I often speculated as to whether life was worth living under these conditions.

Being young, I had never sympathized with those who went insane or committed suicide, especially because of a situation they themselves had created. I had always lived by the philosophy that if one played the game, he must be willing to pay the price. Segregation and isolation were beginning to make me realize, however, that while these macho ideals were easy to maintain when there was hope, it was far more difficult to cope with the undesirable and traumatic world of reality once hope was gone.

This was brought home to me with great clarity when an inmate of D Block, shortly after my release from the hole, calmly found a way to slash the major arteries in his wrists and elbows. He lay down on his bed, covered himself with a blanket, and bled to death. He had found his escape.

It is a release that is much easier to contemplate than to bring to actuality. Our natural instincts are to survive, and only after reaching the very bitter depths of despair can we bring it to this final conclusion. At Alcatraz, suicide was not an infrequent state of mind, and was often prevented only by tight security and the lack of a means to accomplish it.


This was no walk in the cake and it was interesting to read that not all prisoners were violent or committed a crime that in todays society would have just allowed them to walk away with a slap on the hand. Below are some of the more well known prisoners in Alcatraz and what their offenses were:

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Once you walk out of D Block, this more restricted area of the prison, you come into the prison library area. Of course, due to their confined state, prisoners turned to reading if they would literate. The plaque on the wall states that literate prisoners would read about 75-100 books a year. There were about 15,000 books housed in this library on shelving units but it is important to note that books on sexual, criminal or violent topics were not allowed in the library…understandably!

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Here is what it would have looked like in it’s hay day from the same viewpoint that I took above. Photo credit unknown.

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Now, I could write a whole blog post on this topic…the famous Battle of Alcatraz in 1946. Here is some of the details but if you are interested, I highly recommend you further your research and read more about that fateful day. You can see the actual bar that the prisoners used the bar spreader on to attempt to “get out”.

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Below is one of the brother’s actual cell that attempted to break out of Alcatraz, complete with the human dummy they made from prison scraps to allude the guards at bed check and also the hole that they chipped away at that allowed them to slip away located under the sink…

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It was said by a former prisoner that came back as a tourist to Alcatraz on our audio tour that it was hard being especially in D Block as on calm nights, you could lie in your rack in your cell and hear music and voices come across the bay when the San Francisco Country Club on the water would have their parties…soo close and yet worlds away!

In this picture you can see how close the city is from the prison and yet the freezing water, rip currents and armed guards made it all seem impossible to reach.

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So, after about 3 hours of more exploring and hitting up the awesome gift shop there, it was time for us to head off the island and take the ferry back to the bay so we could check out Pier 39 before we called it a day. What an amazing experience and so glad I got to see this with the boys too! It as a day I will never forget with them.

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Our day was almost at its end and we were exhausted, so we decided to head to Pier 39 and then head back to the boat for the evening. The Golden Gate bridge was still covered in fog which was so disappointing, so we began the short walk to see what all the fuss was over Pier 39. 🙂 It was a cute little area with a lot of shops and a nice view of their marina.

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So, this day is a wrap and what a educational and eye opening day at that! I really hope you get to explore San Fran when you can. We didn’t get to do anything in the city so this is another place I told the boys they could bring their family back later on to explore. 🙂

Coming Tomorrow: Oakhurst (South Entrance of Yosemite – We will be staying there for 8 nights as a home base into Yosemite)

Thanks again for coming along this journey with us. Happy trails and safe traveling…until next time!!

— Owl, Hi-Five and Eagle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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