Some people think our June Picnic on Angel Island is the best meeting of the year. Aside from the fresh air and natural beauty, it is a chance to tell stories and get to know each other in a relaxed setting. Play bocce ball, ride your bike (or scooter), walk up the summit of Mt. Livermore. Everyone must arrive by boat, self-propelled or otherwise.
The Angel Island picnic is an opportunity to stretch your legs, get some sun (and/or fog), appreciate the Bay, and visit with friends and fellow Explorers. Enjoy the barbecue, and learn some Bay Area history. Take a ferry from San Francisco, Vallejo, or Tiburon, or arrive by kayak with Sue Estey (weather permitting).
We will be aiming to send an advance party via private vessel (of any size) to arrive before the first ferry and establish a beachhead.
Mary Jane and Mike Diggles are working on a treat from John Roscoe. They are going to bring the tent John used in Antarctica a few decades ago, if they can just lift the thing. It is not something he tossed on the top of his pack and hiked with; this seems to be one of those serious pieces of field equipment you use in harsh field conditions. We'll roll it out on the lawn at Angel Island and see if we can figure out how to set it up; come join us for this historic event.
Access to the Island is by Public Ferry or private boat.
Tiburon to Angel Island Ferry
415-435-2131 Hourly trips
San Francisco from Pier 41
Blue & Gold Fleet 415-773-1188
Vallejo BayLink Ferry
Tides: Low (-1.7 ft) at the Golden Gate at 7:42 AM, high at 3:09 PM, low at 7:35 PM
Slack water at 10 AM, max flood (4.4 knots) is at 1 PM, slack around 4:30 PM, max ebb (2.6 knots) at 7 PM.
Kayakers: meet at Schoonmaker Beach, Sausalito. Experienced kayakers only. Call Sue Estey at 510- 526-2216. Sea Trek rents kayaks at Schoonmaker Beach to those who have taken classes in sea kayaking; call them for more information.
Photo of Bill Isherwood and Hansen's grandson, Ussarkaq Hansen.
Trip brochure as PDF document
Miwok Indians established camps at what we know today as Ayala Cove, Camp Reynolds, Fort McDowell, and the Immigration Station. The Indians using the island were expert at fishing, and also hunted deer, seals, sea lions, and sea otter. Several kinds of fish and shellfish were available year-round, and salmon and other highly prized fish were seasonally plentiful. The annual spawning runs were made though Raccoon Strait, just offshore from Angel Island. The Indians also hunted ducks and other sea fowl, and gathered acorns, buckeyes, and other seed crops, as well as certain roots and leaves, in order to round out their varied diet.
In the nineteenth century, a number of highly aggressive European grasses (mostly annuals) began to replace the native grasses (mostly perennials), and firewood cutters chopped down much of the oak forest on the northeast side of the island. Native trees and shrubs have now recovered to a large extent, and can be found prospering along with a wide variety of introduced plants brought to the island by military personnel and others during the last century.
Oak, bay, and madrone (Arbutus menziesi)trees, sagebrush, chamise, manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.), toyon, elderberry, and coyote brush are native to the island. Eucalyptus, Monterey pine, Douglas fir, Monterey cypress, black locust, Australian tea trees, Portuguese cork oaks, and other trees and shrubs were planted on the island by the military. Wildflowers are abundant.
Animal and bird life is wonderfully diverse; both land and seashore species can be seen. Seals and sea lions can sometimes be seen and heard, deer and raccoons also live on the island. Birds that are often seen include robins, scrub jays, sparrows, juncos, hummingbirds, flickers, hawks, owls, sea gulls, ducks, egrets, grebs, scoters, and kingfishers. Blue herons, pelicans (both brown and white), and many other waterfowl can be seen feeding offshore or flying over the island on their way to feeding grounds in other parts of the bay. Salmon, striped bass, and other fish migrate between the ocean and the Sacramento River Delta through Raccoon Strait.
The island is also notable for the animals that are not found there. For example, there are no squirrels, rabbits, foxes, skunks, opossums, or coyotes.
Bicycles can be used on the island-circling system of main roads, and can be brought to the island on the ferry boats. Foot trails and the road to Mount Livermore are closed to bicycles for safety and resource protection. A concessionaire operates a snack bar and limited bus service during the summer, and by special arrangement during the rest of the year.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, the island was probably uninhabited. The Indians had all been drawn into Mission San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores in San Francisco), or driven out of the region. After 1808, though, Russian sea otter hunting expeditions visited the island, establishing a storehouse there. In 1814, the British 16-gun sloop-of-war, the HMS Raccoon, was damaged off the coast of Northern California, but managed to stay afloat long enough to reach San Francisco Bay. In March and April of that year, the ship was repaired on the beach at Ayala Cove. Today, the deep-water channel between Tiburon and Angel Island is named Raccoon Strait, in honor of the old British sailing ship.
In 1837, Antonio Maria Osio asked the governor of California to give Angel Island to him for use as a cattle ranch. In his capacity as military commandant of Alta California, General Vallejo endorsed the petition with the proviso that some of the island be retained for harbor defense. Osio's grant was approved by the governor in 1839, and thereafter he kept cattle - up to 500 of them - on the island. He had several houses built for use by his herders and other attendants, although he himself never lived on the island.
As years passed, use of Quarantine Station diminished. Better medical examinations were made at ports of embarkation, and improved medical practices made lengthy quarantines unnecessary. Being an island isolated from the mainland made the station inconvenient and expensive to maintain. It was abandoned when the U.S. Public Health Service, which succeeded the old U.S. Marine Health Service, moved its headquarters to San Francisco. Most of the quarantine buildings were torn down in the late 1950s, after Ayala Cove area became a state park. Those remaining include the former bachelor officers quarters (now a park museum) and several employee residences which are now used by state park personnel.
The influx of Asians into the United States, dating from the California Gold Rush, created tension between them and other immigrants. During the 1870s, an economic downturn resulted in serious unemployment problems, and led to outcries against Asian immigrants who would work for low wages. Restrictive immigration laws were passed that allowed entry only to those who had been born in the U.S. or had husbands or fathers who were citizens. Enforcement of those laws was assigned to the Bureau of Immigration.
When it opened in 1910, the new detention facility on Angel Island was considered ideal because of its isolation. There were buildings to house and care for detainees, a pier, and regular boat service to the mainland. During the next 30 years, this was the point of entry for most of the approximately 175,000 Chinese immigrants who came to the United States. Most of them were detained on Angel Island for as little as two weeks or as much as six months. A few however, were forced to remain on the island for as much as two years.
Interrogations could take a long time to complete, especially if witnesses for the immigrants lived in the eastern United States. Some detainees expressed their feelings in poetry that they carved into the wooden walls of the detention center. Others simply waited, hoping for a favorable response to their appeals, but fearing deportation. Many of the poems that were carved into the walls of the center are still legible today.
In 1940, the government decided to abandon the Immigration Station on Angel Island. Their decision was hastened by a fire that destroyed the administration building in August of that year. On November 5, the last group of about 200 aliens (including about 150 Chinese) was transferred from Angel Island to temporary quarters in San Francisco. The so-called "Chinese Exclusion Acts", which were adopted in the early 1880s, were repealed by federal action in 1943, because by that time, China was an ally of the U.S. in World War II.
Today, most visitors to Angel Island find the Immigration Station quite interesting. While often called the Ellis Island of the West, the Angel Island Immigration Station was, in fact, quite different. Arrivals at Ellis Island were welcomed to this country, and screened primarily for medical reasons. At Angel Island, on the other hand, the objective was to exclude new arrivals. The memories of many returning visitors are therefor bittersweet. A museum has been established in the old barracks building. It includes a re-creation of one of the dormitories, and features some of the poems that were carved into the station's walls.
U.S. Army presence on the island increased significantly in 1899, when a quarantine station was built at Fort McDowell on the eastern end of the island. This new facility made it possible to isolate troops who had been exposed to contagious diseases while serving overseas in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection.
In 1900, the army designated the entire island as Fort McDowell, and referred to various installations with geographic designations. Camp Reynolds thus became West Garrison, the Immigration Station was North Garrison, and what we know today as Fort McDowell was called East Garrison. Today, visitors and staff generally use descriptive rather than geographic names. On these pages, for example, Fort McDowell refers only to the facilities the army would have called East Garrison.
The new facility grew quickly from a quarantine station to a discharge depot, and by 1905, some 87,000 men had passed through it en route back and forth to the Pacific.
In 1917, following the U.S. declaration of war on Germany, the facilities at Fort McDowell were put to heavy use, and even the Immigration Station (North Garrison) was pressed into service as a prison for "enemy aliens" (most of them German citizens) who had been arrested on board ships in West Coast harbors. These men were later transferred to permanent detention quarters in North Carolina.
In 1918, Angel Island was used as a debarkation and discharge point for troops returning from the war. Thereafter, through the 1920s and 1930s, the busy Fort McDowell area inducted, discharged, or handled the transfer of about 40,000 men per year - more than were processed by any other military post during those years. The reason for much of this activity was that from 1900 to 1941, the only U.S. military bases outside the continental United States were in the Pacific (the Philippines, Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, etc.), and Fort McDowell was the nation's only military processing station. Because of this overseas orientation, the ordinary, routine military life of the fort acquired a unique and distinctly international atmosphere.
As troops began to return home, a 60-foot-high illuminated "Welcome Home, Well Done" sign was erected on the south-facing slope of the island. The rush continued into 1946, and then tapered off rapidly, so that in July of that year, the army decided to close down Fort McDowell, and declare the entire island surplus property.
This is the last event of the academic year. We will see you in the fall; have a safe field season.
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Phone: (408) 795-5445
Fax: (408) 995-5479
Address (if changed): _________________________________________________________
Please make your checks out to The Explorers Club and mail with this form to:
Stephen E. Smith
The Explorers Club
402 Via Royal
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
$20 per person if postmarked by June 18.
$25 per person if postmarked later
If reserving after June 18, please call Steve Smith at 925-934-1051.