Alcatraz and the AGU

One of the main tourist attractions in San Francisco is Alcatraz Island. Best known for being home to Alcatraz, the infamous federal penitentiary, the island was originally the site of the first US-built fort and lighthouse on the West Coast. The 22-acre island is located 2.4km off the coast in San Francisco Bay. Often referred to as “The Rock”, we nicknamed the prison Azkaban. The federal prison was in operation from 1934 to 1963 and was home to numerous notorious American criminals, the most infamous being Al Capone. In total there were fourteen escape attempts made by 29 men. It is said that no successful escapes were made; although, five men were presumed drowned but remain unaccounted for.

The solemn history of Alcatraz seems to permeate every part of the island, and having the opportunity to view it first-hand is quite overwhelming. We took a fifteen minute ferry ride to the island and spent a couple hours walking around. As we walked through the cell house, dining hall, library, recreation yard and parade grounds, it was difficult not to feel impacted by the events that occurred there and the people that lived there. Each person was given an audio headset which guided them through the buildings on the island. The intensity of the experience was heightened as the narrators were the actual officers and prisoners who lived on the island. We were taken past the cells where escape attempts occurred. Holes dug by metal spoons in the back cell walls still remained. Bullet holes scarred doors and grenade impact marks marred the floors….Evidence of lives lost over the years.

After spending a while touring the buildings, we ended the excursion by walking through the island gardens. Originally planted by those living on the island while it was a US fort, the gardens were maintained by prison guard families. Once the island closed, the gardens became overgrown and acted as nesting areas for different birds. These bird habitats are being maintained and the gardens are presently being restored. This part of the island stands in stark contrast to the imposing cement structures that make up the prison. Throughout the year, hummingbirds, cormorants and herons mingle amongst succulents, geraniums, roses, and sweet peas. It was a great way to end our tour on the island, tempering the harsh reality that is Alcatraz.

In the afternoon we spent time at the AGU browsing through rows upon rows of posters covering topics from hydrology to education to seismology. It was astounding to see how many people are doing research on topics that vary as much as the people themselves! After browsing through the poster hall, Audrey and I spent a couple hours listening to lectures. We ended the day with one of our favourite things to do: a cable car ride through town.

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