A few weeks ago I got what is probably the chance of a lifetime to spend the night on Alcatraz. Apparently there's some complicated lottery system; the guy who coordinated my group has been trying to get to sleep on The Rock for 9 years. It was great!
Each overnight is limited to 35 people. We met at Pier 33 in San Francisco, and at 4ish we got on an empty boat to Alcatraz - tourists were still on the island but no new day trippers were allowed. It's a 12-minute ride over, and once we arrived there was a fair amount of hurry-up-and-wait, but we eventually put our food in a storage room and our luggage in a truck, and then did a service project - we helped sweep a path clear of the fallen detritus after a big storm last week. It was fairly messy, but with 35 of us, we cleaned it up quickly, and had plenty of time to admire the incredible sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm so glad this is a national park and not some rich person's private reserve!
After the service component, we reconvened with our ranger who had agreed to stay with us, and he gave is a brief overview of our evening's plan: first, we'd watch a showing of a short movie about Alcatraz. Then we'd go up and put our baggage into the cells where we'd be staying. Following that we'd take the audio tour that everyone gets (it was very good, if quite realistic and creepy!). After the audio tour we were able to regroup down at the pier where we had a BBQ set up, and shared our potluck meal.
As we were eating, the final evening tourists departed on the last boat, around 9:30. We packed up our meal and went with "our" ranger for an amazing exploration. He spent at least three hours with us going over all manner of the history of the island, using the buildings to illustrate the history of the island. We also heard about some of the escape attempts and lots of details of life there. We got to go up in the guards' gun gallery (which overlooked the cell blocks), into the former chapel/movie theater, up on the roof with its amazing views of San Francisoc, down in the basement which dates to the 1840s, and was some of the first places where they put military prisoners, and even out into the prisoners' yard where they played baseball and walked around a couple of hours a week. We even got to see how the mechanism for selecting & opening some or all of the cell doors!
We finished off by being allowed up into the hospital wing which was SUPER creepy as most of it was dark. We'd signed waivers before we arrived, so were allowed to go pretty much where we wanted. we were turned loose around 12:30 or 1 am. After poking around the hospital, I made a final trek allllll the way outside to the bathrooms before going to bed in my cell. They couldn't get the lights off in the main room, unfortunately, and it was warmer than I'd expected, but I was pretty tired after walking around on concrete all evening, so I slept okay.
We regrouped at 7:45am in the spectacular morning light to pack up and start getting our luggage out, and got to have a bit more of a tour outside before gathering to wait for the boat. We planned to have breakfast on the other side, but happily scrounged the leftovers from the previous evening's potluck while we waited for the 9am boat. We got back, some of us stuck our luggage in one person's truck, and then had breakfast together before splitting up. What a set of memories!
We even got cool patches: