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Touring THE ROCK with Big Daddy Omar!!

Well, since I have no actual riding stories to share as it is STILL FACKING RAINING, I thought I'd share some photos from the weekend.

Paul (aka Big Daddy Omar) has been trying to convince Peter and I to visit Alcatraz and take his "special tour" for months if not years now...we finally ran out of excuses and decided, fine, we'd go. As the time grew closer, Paul's descriptions of ways we could die -- "accidentally, of course" -- became more elaborate.

After some vague confusion at the counter about our will-call ferry tickets, Paul left us at soggy Pier 39 to take an earlier boat out to the island. Peter and I wandered around Fisherman's Wharf for an hour, chugging beer and making faces at the sea lions.

What mysteries await us at....THE ROCK???

We got on the ferry and arrived at the island around 4:30. Paul collected us and waited for the large tour group to pass before taking us to our first "behind the scenes" building -- an old barracks that had a rifle range on the second floor (Paul...was it a barracks and a rifle range at the same time? I'm not sure I'd want to fall asleep to the sound of people shooting at me from below...).

The back of the rifle range has this carving of the original name of the island. Alcatraz was named by Spanish Explorer Manuel de Ayala: Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans. We didn't see any pelicans, unless the explorer had them confused with "loud annoying poopy seagulls".

At the back of the rifle range, Paul took us on Death Trap #1, a rickety old aluminum ladder leading down into a storage room. It was pretty cool to see the wide disparity in construction the solid fortress archway on the left to the shoddy wooden planks of the federal prison behind me:

We went back up the ladder, outside, and into the neighboring barracks. I didn't photograph this building, but there was lots of broken glass and some doors that were sealed shut. An old ladder sat in the middle of the main room, which I thought nothing of until Paul erected it...and I looked up to see a small attic access! It reminded me of the old Zork adventure games, where if you see any item at probably need it, so pick it up and look around the room more closely.

Outside once again, we walked east (I think) towards the industries building, stopping at the burned-out shell of the officer's club. The Club was originally a Post Exchange and served as a general store for the soldiers and their families. When Alcatraz became a federal prison (1934), the building became a rec hall, complete with a two-lane bowling alley! In 1970, after a six-month Native American occupation of the island, the government removed the water barge that supplied fresh water to the inhabitants. Three days later, the Officer's Club was destroyed by fire.

As we continued up the island, Paul stopped to show us one of the recent discoveries on the island -- an old oil bunker. This was a fuel oil bunker for the generator, constructed by sealing off one of the many ammunition bunkers and filling it with oil. The oil seeped into the walls and then into the sandstone behind them. Now that there's no oil left in the bunker, the oil is seeping back out of the walls.

Oil seeping out of the wall:

After the stinky, dark, claustrophobic oil bunker (yay!), Paul took us to the gloriously wide-open power station building. Everything was rusty from sea spray.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip -- standing at the base of the smokestack, underneath the intake from the boiler room. The walkway between where Peter and I stand has no railing, is wet and mossy, and has a sheer dropoff down the rock cliff to the surf. So many ways to die on Alcatraz!

Such glorious weather!

Years of exactly that type of weather have made these water tanks completely rust through. All fresh water is brought on the ferry now; clearly, no one uses the water tower or tanks for storage anymore.

There are two industries buildings on Alcatraz, one of which (the easternmost and older one) I don't think anyone can get into anymore. The stairs leading up the side of the building have rusted through, leaving only the bannisters weaving up the wall like ivy.

Because I'm not so bright, I didn't take any photos inside the lower new industries building that we did go into, but I think that building is normally included in tours (Paul?). It's the laundry area where prisoners washed clothes under careful watch -- the ceilings of the rooms in lower industries are lined with gun galleries. A patrolman could walk along a narrow hallway, looking down into the laundry, and have a clear shot at any prisoner acting up.

Here's the stairs in between the upper and lower gun galleries overlooking the interior of the new industries building. The small window-looking thing along the bottom righthand wall is a gun gallery peering down into the laundry room.

The second floor of the new industries building is wide-open and, frankly, a little creepy. The whole time we were in there, I felt as though something was poking at my spine...not painful, just...present. I'm not a ghosthunter, so you know I'm not making this up; Peter felt it, too. The room has a very eerie echo, and only one way in or out.

From the NPS website: "Many inmates worked inside the shop and industries buildings, where they might end up laudering prison clothes and linen, making gloves, building furniture, or working in the metal or carpentry shops. During World War II, the prisoners turned to defense work, making cargo nets for the U.S. Navy, manufacturing fatigues and khakis for the Army, and repairing the buoys that held the antisubmarine net across the mouth of the bay."

Here's what it would have looked like then:

Abandoned prison buildings are fun for the whole family!

From the industries building, we continued up the island pathways. I didn't realize how terraced the island really is...layers on layers on layers. This is overlooking the barracks that we were in earlier (the righthand one has the rifle range; I think that door towards the roof was where we'd have had to go in to see those 1920s pinups...? Next time, Paul!).

At the top of the pathway was the Warden's House, which, like the Officer's Club, burned at the end of the Native American occupation in 1970. Hard to believe it, but this house once had 17 rooms. I enjoyed the flowers growing up out of the charred remains...Alcatraz is truly layers of history, one on top of another.

From the Warden's House on a clear day, you can see a spectacular panorama of San Francisco. For us....well, it was rainy and foggy, but you get the idea. This area of the island is the Parade Field, and was the only area of the island I'd previously been to. T-Mobile held a Creed concert on the Parade Field in October 2002, which I went to with my friend Alan. It was dark; now that I've seen it in the daytime, I find the idea of a concert on Alcatraz to be a little creepy. The rubble in the photo below, right next to where the concert was, is the abandoned remnants of apartment buildings that the guards lived in with their families. During the Native American occupation in 1969-70, the new inhabitants took over the apartment buildings. The leader of the occupation, Richard Oakes, left the island in early '70 when his daughter Yvonne fell three stories to her death.

From the patio area outside the Warden's House, we entered the cellhouse. We skipped most of the heavily touristy areas, preferring not to get stuck behind rows of Midwesterners listening to the audio tour and photographing Cousin Martha in a Real! Alcatraz! Cell!

We headed into the dining area, which looked pretty much like an empty cafeteria...except for the tear gas canisters permanently mounted to the ceiling. The canisters would be triggered with machine gun fire to quiet down the inmates if they got unruly during dinner (such as during the Spaghetti Riot of 1950...true story).

I liked this knife rack...the silhouettes of knives and other kitchen utensils let the guards know if any inmates had stolen anything during kitchen duty

From the kitchen, we saw some of the old bread making ovens and refrigerators -- again, I don't know why I didn't take any photos -- and then went out back to overlook the recreation yard. Al Capone once got into a fight with another inmate in the yard and was placed into isolation for eight day...rec yard privileges were taken seriously!

If I remember correctly, Paul said that the rec yard was also where prisoners lined up to head over the industries buildings to work.

I don't have any pictures, because apprently I really suck, but the next area we went to was the old hospital. Hospitals, especially mental units, are really fackin' creepy in their own add the prison theme and you've got yourself a very creepy little area.

Paul showed us one of the psychiatric ward areas, complete with isolation cell, which was entirely walled shut except for a little revolving door in the wall for food. The weird thing about the the room was that it was lined in *really* hard tile...didn't seem to safe for mental patients, if you know what I mean. Apparently the officials agreed, as Paul told us that they eventually put prisoners inside a makeshift cage and *then* into the cell.

The general psych cells were also interesting as they had functional toilets, just like the normal cellblock cells, but the flush buttons were outside the cell in the hallway. Guards had to flush for the prisoners. Same with the showers -- the temperature control and off/on controls were all out in the hallway. Oh, that reminds me of another cool piece of trivia Paul told us, which is that all of the prisoners would get nice warm showers ... so that they couldn't acclimate to cold water and be able to swim across the Bay in case of escape.

We took a quick trip into the Birdman of Alcatraz's (Robert Stroud) psych cell, the operating room, and another treatment room with a bathtub and X-ray darkroom. Sadly, we had to sort of rush through these areas since we were running out of time before the boat left.

OK, so after the hospital, we went back down into the cellblock area (again avoiding tourists) and snuck down a back passageway to some stairs.

Paul gave us hard hats to wear -- though I think mine was actually more dangerous than helpful since it was about 8 sizes too big and kept falling over my eyes -- and we headed down into the remains of the citadel.

Built in the 1850s, the citadel originally stood three stories tall and was the final point of defense on the island in case of attack. The two upper stories were living quarters for the officers, and the bottom story stored food, ammunition, and water.

In this old photo, the citadel is the building at the very top of the island:

When the island became a military prison in the early 1900s, the top two stories of the citadel were razed, and the cellhouse was built over the basement and dry moat area.

The archways at the right of the photo were the ammunition storage areas during Alcatraz's fortress days and occasionally served as solitary confinement cells when the island was a miliary prison.

One of the coolest things about the casements is the graffiti. There's writing left from the Native American occupation of 1969-70, but we also saw etchings and signatures from as back as 1889.

It was a little creepy being down in the citadel because it was extremely apparent how the years of abandonment have treated the island. Here, Paul shows the layers of construction visible in the citadel. The concrete is chipped away to expose the massive load-bearing I-beam, which also happens to be rusted through. The jacks and wooden beams are modern additions to support the old prison foundation. Without those jacks (also visible in other pictures above), the foundation could -- and probably would -- collapse, taking the entire cellblock above with it.

Unfortunately, our trip had to come to an end, as the boat was leaving. Next time maybe we can stay overnight!

This time, we escaped...from THE ROCK!