Hike #19: Angel Island

Location: San Francisco Bay

Distance: ~6 miles

Entry fee: $15 round-trip ferry ticket (per person)

This past Sunday morning Paul and I decided to hop on the ferry and cross the bay to Angel Island.

During the ice age Angel Island was connected to the mainland.   About 8,000 years after that the island served as a fishing and hunting site for the Coast Miwok Native Americans (interesting side note, similar evidence for the existence of Miwoks on Angel Island are also found on Ring Mountian…which devoted followers may remember from Hike #14.)   The northwest Ayala Cove is where Juan de Ayala, commander of the first vessel to enter SF Bay, first anchored his ship…and where we first started our hike.

With the recent rain the island was super green with lots of wild flowers mixed in with the charred tree stumps and fence posts from the 2008 fire.   Since this was our first trip to the island, we weren’t entirely sure what we wanted to do or where we were going.   There is a paved road that runs around the perimeter of the island (aptly named Perimeter Road) that is open to bikes, which are popular among campers on the island.  (Campsites out here are few and far between, and making a reservation often requires booking months in advance.)  Paul really wanted to get up to the highest point on the island, Mount Livermore, so we opted out of walking the entire perimeter and took the North Ridge Trail for the first half of our hike…along with a Russian family of about 15.  After 30 minutes of weaving through Russian children…passing them, having them catch up…we finally broke away and beat them to the summit.  YES.

Upon arriving at the top we found…a bunch of people eating (all the picnic tables were taken) and a FANTASTIC view of San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay.  After taking it all in, we followed the back half of the Sunset Trail down to where it hits the Fire Road.  From the Fire Road we headed down to the Perimeter Trail, which we followed back to Ayala Cove.  Aside from the Russians, we encountered few hikers on the first part of the hike.  Once we hit the Perimeter Trail traffic picked up a little bit as well…but nothing overwhelming.

deserted hospital

On the way back down we passed by a number of old, abandoned buildings.  Known as the “Ellis Island of the West” in the 19th and 20th centuries, Angel Island served first as a military base (and for a while as a quarantine station for soldiers re-entering the country), and then an immigration station.   Restrictions imposed by the Chinese Exclusion Act (also referenced in Hike #10) resulted in a number of immigrants spending years on the island waiting for entry between 1910 and 1940.  There are a number of run-down buildings that used to be hospitals, schools, and homes, as well as small communities that formerly served as military housing located in clearings near the water.  These communities were particularly weird…they are very neat and clean, with manicured lawns and blooming gardens, but emtpy…which makes the whole place kind of creepy.   These parts of the island seem very surreal, they reminded me of the town in the movie Big Fish.

Early spring is a really great time to do this hike if you want to see some cool flowers and butterflies.  Butterflies were everywhere on this hike (as were bees), and there were some really awesome wildflowers in full bloom.  No slugs or ladybugs, though.  And fortunately no mountain lions.

We made it back to Ayala Cove a little bit early and had a beer at one of the cafes there before catching the boat home.  The lawn at the cove was packed with families and kids playing and lounging on the grass.  I got super sunburned.

Hike #19: really awesome success…a great day trip, highly recommend.

Lessons learned: upon exiting the ferry, get a quick start and watch out for tourist groups

Flora and Fauna: red spotted purple butterfly (I think); iris; california indian pink; california sister; coyote brush

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