Travel: Alcatraz Island

Almighty Alcatraz - does any other prison have such blockbuster status? Al Capone once did a stint here, as did Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman. But it remains most famous for the daring escape of 1963 - still shrouded in mystique, as none of the escapees were ever found dead or alive.

Following the Gold Rush, the US Army commandeered the rocky outcrop as "Fortress Alcatraz". In 1853 it began to receive soldiers and cannons to protect San Francisco Bay as settlements there boomed. During the Civil War era, the island fortress was used to store guns, so as many firearms as possible were kept out of the hands of Southern sympathisers. It was also at this time that a permanent prison was established on the island.

Native Americans occupied the island for two years before it was finally protected as a national monument.

Alcatraz sightseeing cruises are wildly popular and they last about two-and-a-half hours. In addition to enjoying tours of the prison block, you can totter around the island's buildings, walking trails and check out the birdlife, given Alcatraz is a nesting ground for all a variety of species including black-crested night herons. Remnants of the Native American occupation can also be viewed and they include a sign on the outside of the prison that reads "Indians Welcome".

Alcatraz Island is relatively hilly, so wear comfortable, sturdy shoes and take a jacket for insulation against those bay breezes.

- Hamilton News

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