A Lonely Walk Around Angel Island in the Off Season

Yesterday, I took a loner’s adventure to Angel Island. This 1.2 square mile island sits between San Francisco and Tiburon, and offers wonderful views of the whole bay.

Angel Island seen from the lonely ferry.

Until about ten thousand years ago, the mass was connected to the mainland. But then the ice age ended and sea levels rose. Rumor has it that a pack of male saber tooth tigers were trapped by the rising water and over time resorted to homosexual behavior. This proto-Castro was isolated until the Miwok native americans built a trolley and ferry system that spread these tigers to the rest of the bay area.

Since the last ice age, the island’s lighthearted history has involved native americans, the military, and the immigration department.

The Blue and Gold Ferry departed from Pier 41 thirty minutes late. Me and a mother and daughter were the only paying passengers that morning, and the boat felt dreary and empty. I chatted with the crew, trying not to sound effeminate. They offered me a free bottle of water and some tepid coffee.

The stylish decor of the Blue and Gold fleet.

After a short ride, the boat sidled up to the pier and we disembarked. A ranger greeted us, assuming that we all were together. I explained that I already had a mother and that she was way better than this one. He agreed, gave me a map, and I went on my way.

From then on, I saw not a soul for the four hours until the ferry departed. The island was empty. The shops at Ayala Cove were closed and the tour trams were on blocks. This was my kind of atmosphere.

I hoofed it up the path past the visitor’s center to the paved perimeter road. Alone, I felt clear headed and adventurous. The day was mostly sunny, though thick rain clouds drifted worryingly close at times. A heavy breeze rustled branches and grass.

My hike took me five miles around the island. I stopped to admire the views, relieve myself, and enjoy my packed snacks. Despite the city being in view, the island was free from the noise of civilization.

While the natural scenery was great, what really made the trip was all of the abandoned buildings. Fort McDowell could easily be the scene of a war or zombie infestation.

Looking towards the hills of Tiburon from Angel island.


Mummy tree.

The start of the empty perimeter road.

Looking back at the port of Ayala Cove. The ferry was already gone. It’s like that scene in The Lost World: Jurrassic Park where the ferry they took to Isla Sorna left immediately. Would I befall the same action sequences?

Probably not. Here’s another dino-free view of Tiburon hill with the sun hitting it just right.

Stumped irises.

Tiburon with Mount Tam in the distance. Note the ugly buildings along the waterfront. Stupid 70s/80s.

Walking along the perimeter and looking towards the headlands.

Approaching the first of what would be many abandoned military buildings.

An old hospital.

The officer’s quarters at Camp Reynolds.

Boarded barracks.

A lone building at the base of the parade grounds.

A picnic for one.


The endless perimeter road appears to be on the mainland.

Looking towards the Bay Bridge with large ships coming right towards me!

A kinky tree.

The Golden Gate.

All the secrets to the city are behind this door.

A partially hidden and dilapidated residential house above Fort McDowell.

Quarry Beach.

Under this broken lamp I met “The Cowboy”.

Abandoned barracks that I urinated on.

Another view.

Looking down the perimeter road past the post office and towards more abandoned barracks.

This building has seen better days. Anyone for a game of pickup sticks?

Bed, bath, and beyond repair.

A walkway.

Steps to the administration building.

Inside an empty barracks.

Looking down the hallway.


A model of the immigration station back when it was processing, probing and detaining thousands of tired masses.

Angel Island was nicknamed “Ellis Island of the West” because of the immigration station that ran from 1910 to 1940. During this time, a million people passed through. Unfortunately, many Chinese were detained for up to two years due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Their living conditions were pretty horrible, and the whole thing makes memorializing this spot an awkward affair. I imagine in sixty years, Guantanamo is going to have a similarly confused memorial committee.

When you wake up in the morning and your boat is fully mooring and you can’t believe the voyage took all that time, by the time you grab your trunk and give yourself a look, you’re at the pier just in time to see the inspector walk by. It’s all right, ‘cos you’re saved by the bell.


Fishing boats in Fisherman’s Wharf that don’t have fish in them. Something’s fishy.

Riggings ahoy!

I made it back to the ferry early, so I read A Prayer for Owen Meany and soaked up the sun. The ferry home was crowded with people in route to Sausalito and San Francisco.

I was no longer alone.

Archives for March, 2011
March 22nd, 2011. Categories / San Francisco

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