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Friday, June 28, 2013

A Hike and History: Angel Island State Park

We decided to make a run out to Angel Island in San Francisco bay last Saturday. We hadn't been there in over twenty years, which is ridiculous, since it's only about an hour from our front door. When I was a kid my family used to sail over and anchor in Ayala Cove once in a while but since losing boat privileges, it's not quite as convenient.

We got to Tiburon, the nearest ferry launching point for us (ferries also run from San Francisco and Oakland), just in time to catch the first boat over. At $13.50 for a round trip ticket, it's a pretty good deal. We got onboard with dozens of runners and cyclists--the ferry allows bikes as well as passengers--and made the quick trip across Raccoon Straights to the island. (FYI: Weekends during the summer months, the ferry runs on the hour from 10:00am to 5:00pm from Tiburon.)

The harbor at Tiburon

Angel Island has been used by the military since the Civil War; before that it was used as a cattle ranch; before that as a base for Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala who, in turn, took it away from the Coastal Miwok Indians (isn't that the start of every historical account of North America?) In 1962 the missiles were hauled away and it was turned into a state park, with the exception of a sliver of land that is still a Coast Guard station. The island has quite a few remnants of all the various military activities, from a fort with cannon placements to Nike Missile launch pads. The most extensive buildings are from the two World Wars and from when it was used as an immigration quarantine station. In the last few years, some of the buildings have been refurbished and opened as museums to further explain the history of the sites. I just love this stuff.

Mark and I got off the boat in Ayala Cove and checked out the small Visitor's Center. Things have really gotten fancy since the last time I was there, some of the buildings have been fixed up and there are now bike rentals and a little cafe open to the public. We had planned to stay for the day and had packed a lunch and water so we would be prepared to make the full 5 mile loop of the island.
The stairs leading up from the cove to the Perimeter Rd, well worn by many feet.

It's one of the only places you can go that affords a 360 degree view of San Francisco Bay. As you walk around the Perimeter Road you can see Tiburon, Sausalito and the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge, Oakland, parts of the Alameda shipyards and of course, the water surrounding everything. It was a gorgeous day, a little windy, but that brought out a slew of sailboats which made for some great pictures.

Looking towards Marin County, Tiburon in the foreground.

Looking out from Camp Reynolds.












Our first stop was Camp Reynolds, an old Civil War base that was made into a training camp during WWI. They've restored many of the buildings there and you can almost feel the history of the place as you walk through the grounds. We watched as some kayakers took off from the little beach nearby, and a regatta of sailboats were skimming the water there as well.

Camp Reynolds Officer's Quarters


We continued down the road and found some old gun placements, only the concrete bunkers left to tell the story. We climbed down and explored the bunkers underneath, which were impressively sturdy after all this time.
Gun placement, looking out toward
the Golden Gate Bridge.








From there we passed an old quarry, with some of the mining equipment still in place, and had lunch on a bench overlooking the bay and San Francisco skyline.

With as many people sharing the ferry with us on the way over, the island was surprisingly uncrowded. We met few people on the road, and even fewer on the side trails. There were many benches scattered around at the various viewpoints and we always found a seat when we wanted one.
Lunchtime view: San Francisco skyline with Alcatraz in the foreground.


Hospital at Ft. McDowell
Our next stop after passing the former Nike Missile placements was the East Garrison, or Fort McDowell. This was the stuff of nightmares for me when, after exploring the ruins at dusk on one of my family's boat trips here, I went to sleep that night and dreamed the hospital was full of patients that had been left behind, all reaching for me as I walked by, calling for help. It took years for that one to wear off.

Coincidentally it was also the scene of Mark's first (and hopefully last) crime: breaking and entering. As a twelve year old on a church field trip, he and a friend decided to explore the old buildings. After climbing a drain pipe and running through the top floors of the hospital, they started trying all the doors of the old houses, finding one open and going inside. Just as they were leaving the house, a ranger finally caught up with them and threatened to throw them off the island. It was appropriate that they have recently refurbished the Garrison, complete with holding tank and jail cells underneath, formerly used for misbehaving soldiers. Mark put himself in the pokey for some slightly delayed justice.

They've removed the stairs to the upper floors
of the hospital to discourage Mark-like behavior.



The recently renovated guardhouse at East Garrison.
Justice at last! The trespasser in lockup.
View from the Guardhouse office
Quarry Beach
View through the church window








Out for a sail, Bay Bridge in the background












There were several docents that were part of the living history program working that day. One volunteer showed us around the Guardhouse that was equipped with historical objects from the WWII era. His enthusiasm rubbed off on us and we shared stories about the "old" phones (that used to have cords) and other things we found from our grandparents time that would be perfect in the museum. Didn't make us feel old at all...

After bailing Mark out, we looped around to the Immigration Station. This was the Ellis Island of the west coast, the first stop for immigrants from 1910 to 1940, and unfortunately, a long stay for some of the Chinese immigrants due to discrimination of the times.  There is now a museum in the main dormitory building, and they are working on opening one of the other buildings for visitors to view.

Immigration Station, now a museum



Caption on the side of bell, Immigration Station
Angel Island State Park



We walked back to Ayala Cove from there and caught the ferry back to Tiburon. Notes for next time: bring a bigger hat and more sunscreen--we were fried after a full day in the sun. We had a fantastic time though, and kept asking ourselves on the way home: Why don't we do that more often?





"Leaving their homes and villages they crossed the ocean,
only to endure confinement in these barracks;
Conquering frontiers and barriers, they pioneered
A new life by the Golden Gate."



Many thanks to the enthusiastic living history docents that showed us around East Garrison, and the Park Rangers that made sure all the visitors got on the proper boats on the way home. I relied on two websites for the history information in this post: Angel Island Conservancy and Americans All for the monument translation.