Alcatraz Island is breathtakingly beautiful in a barren and desolate sort of way, architecturally graceful ruins blending in perfectly with scrub grasses, trees, and various flowers. Birds abound and, in fact, most of the island is white with guano. It is a stark, foreboding place, but truly beautiful. Some might think me crazy to find that place so pretty, but it is if you like ruins that blend in so thoroughly with their natural surroundings that you could not possibly imagine one without the other, then Alcatraz is the place for you.
I spent a sunny day touring the ill-famed Rock. Even though it houses one of the most notorious US jails and was the site of native protests, today the island is a peaceful bird sanctuary that belies the supposed horrors that went on between the crumbling walls of the prison.
The architectural details of the place are striking, showing an aesthetic that belies the purpose of the building. Add the surprising mint green and baby pink colour scheme and Alcatraz does not even remotely look as you would expect it would.
As it turns out, the prison’s reputation was not entirely warranted. I learned there that inmates actually tried to get transferred to Alcatraz as it was a more comfortable prison with some of the best food in the penal system. This is not to say that some of the stories that have come out of Alcatraz are not true; it was a brutal place housing hardened criminals, but there was a softer side to the Rock.
I had expected that I would return from my day on Alcatraz completed drained rather than refreshed, and instead learned that I should never assume anything, a lesson I applied during a humbling visit of the town of Banff.