“But Mom, you KNOW I don’t like interesting historical tours and fun boat rides!”
Although Mom and I and Justin have all been on a tour of Alcatraz before, we all agree that it is fascinating and beautiful and well worth the trip, even though we tend to have some mistrust of popular tourist destinations. I booked (in advance, since that is necessary) a trip to Alcatraz over the holiday weekend. I thought we could make a day of it.
Soren and Ronin enjoying the ferry boat ride
I didn’t realize that Claire would find reasons to disagree with most of the day. She woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or something. She started out by telling me that I should know she didn’t like going to historical places. I was surprised. I reminded her of how much she likes going to Ardenwood Historical Farm, and she said that was different because there are so many activities for children there. I told her that we would have a ferry ride to and from the island and some beautiful scenery, and she told me boats are boring for her now.
Claire trying to muster up a smile for me and baring her teeth into the breeze
My feeling is that Claire had an idea of some place she wanted to go and was probably hoping if she complained enough we’d change our minds and go there. However, she didn’t realize that this outing was not optional since it was planned in advance and we had reservations, and she wasn’t able to pick herself up out of her doldrums even after we got going. She occasionally forgot herself and had fun, but most of the time she moped along. After it was all over, though, she talked about how enjoyable it was.
Ronin under the guard tower at Alcatraz
It was a beautiful day. It has continued to be unseasonably warm and dry. January has set record-breaking high temperatures while the rest of the country has been overtaken by a lengthy freeze, and our governor has just declared a drought. I have been able to dry a lot of our clothes on the back deck this winter, just by draping quilts and jeans over the rails, and most of the time they dry just as quickly as they would in our tiny dryer. We walked around the small island of Alcatraz and looked through the buildings that were in disrepair and the beautiful gardens and the bird nesting areas.
Post Exchange/Officer’s Club
There were two areas that were open that day that Justin and I had not seen before. The New Industries Building, where inmates worked, was available for walk-throughs, and the Agave Trail was also open. Alcatraz is most famous as a federal penitentiary, housing some notorious prisoners and well-known escape attempts. Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, aka “The Birdman of Alcatraz” were all housed there. Prior to the maximum-security facility commissioned during the Great Depression, Alcatraz was home to a lighthouse, a fort, and a Civil-War era prison.
New Industries Building
Soren and Ronin are saying “Hey, hey, how do we get out of here?”
Alcatraz is managed by the Golden Gate National Park Service, and there are protected tide pools around the island and thriving populations of birds that nest there. The gardens and tide pools and abundant bird life were assisted in part by the military and correctional history of the island. Rocks that were blasted from the sides of the island to make room for the buildings during construction more than 150 years ago came to rest along the shore and helped form tide pools. Small sea creatures that live in the tide pools provide a diet for the sea birds that are roosting on Alcatraz. The army brought dirt in from nearby Angel Island, and with that dirt came native California plants and also good topsoil for the gardens that were planted then. Later on, inmates and officers planted and tended more gardens, and when the penitentiary was closed, the gardens kept growing.
Along Agave Trail, San Francisco skyline in the background
We toured the prison building. In the past, I have done an audio tour which I remember being very worthwhile. There is a narrator and sound effects and prisoners recounting their experiences. We did not feel like the children would be capable of listening to the headphones, since we were having a hard enough time getting them to listen to us or even stay with us. We were having them take turns holding hands with us if they were running off too much and not coming back when we asked. By this point, Claire had decided (her next reason to abandon the excursion) that she was so hungry that we needed to leave the island urgently so we could go eat somewhere. We were just trying to make it through the prison and show a few more interesting things to the kids when Soren started needing to go pee every 15 minutes and Ronin became more squirrelly.
Claire in a cell in Alcatraz
Ronin guarding the cell
We really weren’t there for very long, and a lot of it was strolling around the outdoors and none of it was actually stopping and having to read things or listen to things, although it could have been if the children were willing to participate in learning more about the natural history of the island or the history of the buildings or the people who had been there.
Bay Bridge view through Warden’s House
Ronin and Soren on the Agave Trail
We left the island within two hours, had a snack on the boat dock while we were waiting for the ferry, and I researched restaurants near the pier in San Francisco during the trip back. While we were waiting for the ferry and during the boat ride, though, I had to repeat myself enough and actually physically remove them from climbing on things we’d asked them not to climb on, that we decided we probably could not take them out to eat at a restaurant.
Justin the much-abused jungle gym
Some days are just like that, it seems, and it’s better to just pack it in and go home. At least while we were there, we had lovely views and open air and lots of birds and blooming flowers and some fun ferry rides. And, as I mentioned earlier, Claire said afterward that she had a lot of fun. Aside from taking children who don’t want to go with you, I would recommend it to anyone.
San Francisco, from Alcatraz
Speaking of historical forts, I should let you know that the children have all been having a ton of fun with their Christmas presents and we are slowly and steadily in the process of writing thank-you notes. We actually have some written already, but I wasn’t going to send them until I had a few more. It’s also hard getting thank you notes written on top of the homework and other tasks, so we’re doing them a little bit at a time, in between homework pages. The picture below is a fort that Ronin built last night from Lincoln Logs, which was one of the presents.
Thank you for all of the great presents!