The Explorers Club, Northern California Chapter


Spring Garden Party

Angel Island State Park, San Francisco Bay

Saturday June 28, 1997
10:00 AM - 5:00 PM


Photo courtesy of California Department of Parks and Recreation.

This year our Spring Garden Party will take a new turn. With our perennial hostess Erna Baldwin in Europe, we will gather instead on Angel Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay. The island is both a spectacular visual sight and an important historic site. It has excellent picnicking facilities within easy walk of the dock, and is appropriate for elderly and handicapped guests. We'll provide all the food and drink, and even part of the transportation. If you have a favorite folding easy chair, you can bring it. You could also deliver it to the Cordell Explorer and we will bring it for you.

You can arrive anytime, but we will serve lunch at 12:30 PM. The picnic area is located on the lawn area inside Ayala Cove where the ferry will drop you off. We will fly the Golden GateAway flag so you can find us easily.

Cost: $10 per person.

Reservations: Please return your reservation form with your remittance.

What to do on Angel Island

Explorers Club lunch 12:30 PM. Main picnic area.

Tram tours of Angel Island available at 11:15, 12:30 , 2:00, 3:15 PM. $10 for adults, $9 for age 62 and over, $6 for age 6-12, 5 and under free. Discounts available for groups of 15 or more. Tour is highly recommended for its postcard views of the island, and the visit to Fort McDowell and Camp Reynolds. There are both open-air & closed trams.

You may bring your own bike on the ferries, or you may rent one on the island. Bike rental is $9/hr, $25/day. Tandem bikes rent for $19 per hour or $40 per day. Junior bikes are also available. All bike rental prices include a helmet.

The Cove Cafe on the island provides sandwiches, soup, salad, coffee, and wine, all at moderate prices in case you decide to stay late on the island.

Getting to Angel Island

You get to Angel Island via ferry. All ferry prices below are round trip and included the park entry fee. In addition, Chairman Bob Schmieder will be taking his boat, the Cordell Explorer, from Berkeley. You are welcome to ride with him, although the park admission fee must be paid.
Getting to Angel Island

Berkeley Cordell Explorer to Angel Island 510-934-3735 (Bob Schmieder, skipper)
Leave Dock L 9:00 AM, Berkeley Marina. Arr. Angel Island 10:00 AM. Leave Angel Island 6:00 PM, Arrive Berkeley 7:00 PM. No charge, but entrance fee must be paid. Space for bicycles.

History of Angel Island

Miwok Indians

Native American use of the island began some two-thousand or more years ago, when people first began to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Coast Miwok Indians, who lived in what is now Marin County, reached the island with boats made from tule reeds. Some of these boats could carry eight to ten people. Though they tended to become waterlogged after prolonged use, these boats were adequate for short trips because their lightness made them fast and maneuverable. Long poles were used to propel the boats in shallow water; double ended paddles were used in deep water.

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.

Natural History

Before the influence of human residence and use, the flora and fauna of Angel Island were very similar to those of nearby mainland areas in Marin County. North- and east- facing slopes were covered with oak woodland, while native grasses and north coast scrub were predominant on west- and south-facing slopes. Indian use of fire almost certainly accounts for the extension of grassland environment and the restriction of forest and brush land that is apparent in early paintings and photographs of the island.

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.

Trails on the Island

Foot trails and fire roads circle the entire island, and climb to the 781-foot-high summit of Mount Caroline Livermore. Special caution should be used around the unmaintained historic buildings, and in the vicinity of the bluffs, which tend to erode easily, and provide unreliable footing. The main trails are well marked and are designed to avoid most hazards, including the poison oak that is native to the region.

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.

Beaches on the Island

The beaches at Quarry Point and Ayala Cove are both sandy and protected from the afternoon breezes that so often blow in from the ocean through the Golden Gate. Quarry Beach is especially pleasant for sunbathing. There are no lifeguards, though, and swimming can be hazardous because of poor water quality and the very strong currents that run past the island with each change of tide. The water at Perle's Beach is considerably rougher, and the beach is more exposed to the wind and weather. The view, however, is spectacular, and Perle's Beach is therefore a delightful place for walking and general beachcombing.

The Spanish Era

In August 1775, Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala brought his sailing ship, the San Carlos, into San Francisco Bay, and anchored in what is now Ayala Cove. His mission was to develop an accurate description of the bay that future Spanish ship captains could relay on. Ayala's pilot, Don Jose de Canizares, explored the bay in the ship's launch, and did the necessary map work - the first maps ever made of the magnificent and now world-famous harbor. The San Carlos remained at anchor beside the little island that Ayala christened Isla de Los Angeles, following a practice then common among Catholic explorers of naming sites for the religious feast days nearest to the time of discovery.

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.

U.S. Development of the Island

After 1846 and the war between Mexico and the United States, Osio's title was disputed by various people, and a number of squatters took up residence on the island. In the early 1850s a quarry was developed on the island's east shore, and high-quality sandstone was carved out of the cliffs above Quarry Point for use at Mare Island, and elsewhere. San Francisco's original Bank of California, for example, was made of stone from the quarry on Angel Island. The quarry continued in operation until the 1920s, finally reducing the cliff to the present-day site of the parade ground at Fort McDowell.

The Quarantine Station

In 1892, a Quarantine Station was opened at Ayala Cove (then known as Hospital Cove), where ships from foreign ports could be fumigated, and immigrants suspected of carrying diseases could be kept in isolation. The warship USS Omaha was borrowed from the Navy in 1893 and its boilers used to supply superheated steam for fumigation. The 40 buildings at the cove included a 400-bed detention barracks, a disinfection plant, laboratories, and quarters for employees.

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 Immigration Station

In 1905, construction of an Immigration Station began in the area known as the North Garrison. Surrounded by public controversy from its inception, the station was finally put into partial operation in 1910. It was designed to handle the flood of European immigrants who were expected to begin arriving in California once the Panama Canal was opened. International events after 1914, including the outbreak of Worl War I, canceled the expected rush of Europeans, but Asians continued to arrive on the West Coast and to go through immigration procedures. In fact, more than 97 percent of the immigrants processed on Angel Island were Chinese.

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.

Civil War Era

With concern mounting over threats to the Bay Area from Confederate sympathizers and naval forces, the federal government established Camp Reynolds (now known as the West Garrison) on Angel Island in 1863. Artillery batteries were built near the camp and at Point Stuart, Point Knox, and Point Blunt. After the Civil War, Camp Reynolds became an infantry camp, serving as a depot for recruits, and as a staging area for troops serving in campaigns against the Apache, Sioux, Modoc, and other Indian tribes. In 1886, a report critical of Pacific Coast harbor defenses led to development of new gun batteries on the southwest side of the island, facing the Golden Gate. Batteries Ledyard, Wallace, and Drew (the remains of which are visible today) were in operation by 1904, but were decommissioned as obsolete just five years later.

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.

World War I

In 1910 and 1911, Fort McDowell was expanded into a major facility for receiving recruits and processing military personnel for overseas assignment. Construction included a huge 600-person barracks, a mess hall, and a hospital. During the next few years, this new construction made Fort McDowell the world's largest and most elaborate military induction center.

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.

World War II

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the outbreak of World War II, The Immigration Station was turned into a prisoner-of-war processing facility. Before the war was over, hundreds of Japanese, German, and Italian prisoners were temporarily detained here. At the same time, Fort McDowell served as a major point of embarkation for troops headed toward the Pacific war zone. Temporary barracks and other structures were built, an anti-aircraft artillery and searchlight station was constructed and manned atop the mountain, and a large new mess hall and other facilities were constructed in the Immigration Station area.

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.

Last Month's Meeting:

Geologist David Howell took us on a remarkable discovery tour of China. From his professional work on the Asian continent, he has been able to correlate some of the major features of the Chinese culture with major geological features of the land. He began by showing that the Indian sub-continent made a head-on collision with Asia, crumpling the rocks and building the Himalayas. This vast range forms and effective barrier to human traffic, and helps define the major regions of China, from the food-producing East to the desert West. David recounted numerous instances of geology-related impact on the culture. For example, in a mountainous region, the inhabitants suffered from high death rate in a local eddy in the river. So they decided to erect a gigantic Buddha, carving directly into the mountain. The debris from he carving was dumped in the river. By the time the statue was finished, so much rock had been dumped that the eddy was mitigated, and the deaths stopped. The Chinese culture identifies the cessation of the deaths with the statue, rather than with filling of the eddy. David provided numerous examples of this strong coupling of the landscape with the Chinese culture. A contemporary example is the planned high dam on the Yangtze river, which will flood over a million acres. Finally, he pointed out that, with 1.4 billion people and an aging population, the demographics suggest that China will have a very difficult time feeding everyone. In spite of such predictions, China is expected to dominate the world economy into the next century, but will eventually be supplanted by India, whose population is growing at an even greater rate.

From the Chairman: DUES

For some time I have been concerned with the fact that our Chapter has been losing money at a slow, but steady, rate. The fact is that the price charged for our dinner meetings has risen more than the average rate of inflation. Thus, we are paying more for the same service, and yet I have been very reluctant to raise the dinner ticket price proprotionally. Who wants to pay $50 per person for dinner?

The second issue that concerns me is the fact that in the past the dinner tickets were supposed to cover the cost of the newsletter. But only about 1/4 of our members avail themselves of the dinners, and these people are carrying the entire burden for the newsletter.

Therefore, with some reluctance, I am recommending the following: that we charge a Chapter dues of $15 per year for the cost of preparing and mailing the newsletter. We will ask that nonlocal persons receiving the newsletter, including the Club officers, also pay these dues. However, I recommend that the newsletter be provided free of charge to other Chapters. The dues would not be optional, but if you told me you would drop out before paying such dues, I would waive them.

This proposal is offered for your comments. At a later general meeting, I will ask for member concurrence of this idea, and I will ask for formal approval by our officers. If your feedback is terribly negative, we won't do it. However, I must warn you that, failing another plan, dinner prices will rise.


Date created: 06/13/1997
Last modified: 09/21/2015
Content from Charlie (Chapter Secretary) and Louise Geraci. email to Charlie and Louise
Web page by: Mike Diggles, Webmaster, Northern California Chapter of the Explorers Club. email Mike

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