Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Gardens of Alcatraz Island

When I think of Alcatraz, grim, criminally charged images come to mind, but what about succulents? I hadn't been to the island in more than 20 years but we went this week at the request of my sister-in-law for her first visit, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that volunteers have been turning Alcatraz into quite possibly the biggest rock garden in the world.

It's perfect for succulents, being all rock, and as shown below, well-blasted by sun on a good day. We were worried about the weather, having been told it was going to storm all morning, but this time the weather report was wrong and it was so bright my little Canon Power Shot could barely handle all the light. Not complaining.

The prison and former military barrack are just as cold, heartless and scary as ever, but the former administrative apartments have now been demolished; the remaining rubble left as rookeries for seabirds. I'd like to come back during nesting season and see if I can get some birding shots as well. I can't resist a good seabird, especially an egret or heron.

This is your typical view of Alcatraz.
But as the boat pulls in, notice something besides concrete and wind: plants.
There's always been gardening on Alcatraz, provided by military families that lived there in the 19th century and then later, the families of the prison administrators and guards. There's even a children's garden, now restored, for employee children (who were boated to school in the city each morning and back after all the prisoners had been locked down for the day). But ironically, the children I was touring with were too tired, cold and hungry to climb a slight hill and see it up close. We did travel around most of the perimeter of the island and saw a lot of good plants and ruins.

These former apartments were destroyed and are now for the birds. Jackson took this slightly tipped angle. He has a good eye for points of interest. I would have gotten some close-ups but it doesn't appear to be nesting season.
This is formerly the warden's house, burned in 1970 during the Native American occupation of the island. The annual sunrise ferry-boat service to Alcatraz on Thanksgiving day (called Unthanksgiving) is for those who wish to commemorate the occupation. The Indian graffiti from 40 years ago has been left intact, adding to the layers of Alcatraz history.

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