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Exploring the Military History on Angel Island

December 01, 1991|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY and JOHN McKINNEY

For an island barely a square mile in size, Angel Island has an extremely diverse history. Over the last two centuries, the island has seen use as a pirate's supply station, a Mexican land grant, an Army artillery emplacement and an immigrant detention center. Now it's a state park, attracting hikers, history buffs and "islophiles" of all persuasions.

A hundred years of U.S. military occupation began on Angel Island in 1863 when the first gun batteries were installed. The military used the island until 1964, when its Nike missile station was deactivated. During wartime periods--particularly during the Spanish-American War--Angel Island was one of the busiest outposts in America. The island served as a processing center for men about to be dispatched to the Philippines, and as a reception/quarantine center for those soldiers who came back with tropical diseases.

Not all of the island's attractions are historical. Rocky coves and sandy beaches, grassy slopes and forested ridges, plus a fine trail network, add up to a walker's delight. Perimeter Road takes the walker on a five-mile tour of the island and offers a different bay view from every turn. From atop Mt. Livermore, a terrific 360-degree panorama unfolds of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate.

Directions to trail head: Park your car--for a fee--in one of Tiburon's parking lots near the waterfront, or attempt to find some of the scarce free parking.

On winter weekends, Tiburon Ferry leaves hourly, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and returns from Angel Island every hour at 20 minutes past the hour, with the last ferry returning at 4:20 p.m. Fare is $5 for adults, $3 for children.

The Red and White Fleet, which departs from Pier 43 1/2 in San Francisco, has one trip on both Saturday and Sunday. It leaves San Francisco at 10:50 a.m. and returns from Angel Island at 3:30 p.m.

The hike: When you disembark from the ferry, head for the park visitors center, located in a white building that once served as quarters for unmarried officers assigned to the U.S. Quarantine Station, which operated here from 1892 to 1949. Ayala Cove was named Hospital Cove then. At the visitors center, you can check out the interpretive exhibits and pick up a park map.

Walk uphill on the road to the left of the visitors center. You'll soon intersect Perimeter Road, which you'll take to the right. Soon you'll see signed Sunset Trail on your left.

Sunset Trail switchbacks up steep, coastal-scrub covered slopes, to the top of 781-foot Mt. Caroline Livermore. Picnic tables have replaced the anti-aircraft guns and Nike missile installation that once stood on the summit. Views of Ayala Cove, Tiburon and the Golden Gate are memorable.

Continuing on Perimeter Road, you'll soon be overlooking Camp Reynolds (West Garrison). A side road leads down to the island's first military fortifications. You can walk the parade ground and see the brick hospital built in 1869. Still standing are the chapel, stables, barracks and several more structures. Some of the buildings are being restored.

Perimeter Road turns eastward, contouring around ice plant-covered slopes and offering a view down to Point Blunt. You may hear and see the seals gathered around this point. Continue straight ahead at a four-way intersection. The road curves north and soon arrives at East Garrison, where a collection of utilitarian buildings are a reminder of the many thousands of men who were processed here. East Garrison trained about 30,000 men a year for overseas duty. The hospital, barracks, mess hall and officers' homes still stand.

Continue north. You'll soon come to the Immigration Station, the so-called "Ellis Island of the West." From 1910 to 1940, 175,000 immigrants, mostly Asians, were processed here, often rudely.

Perimeter Road rounds Point Campbell, northernmost part of the island, and you'll get a glimpse of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, then a view of Tiburon before the road descends to Ayala Cove.

Angel Island, San Francisco Bay

Angel Island Loop Trail

Where: Angel Island State Park.

Distance: 5 miles round trip, with 400-foot elevation gain.

Terrain: Rocky coves, forested ridges.

Degree of difficulty: Easy.

Highlights: A 360-degree view of San Francisco Bay, plus historic military buildings.

For more information: Contact Angel Island State Park at (415) 435-1915. For ferry service to the island from Tiburon, call Tiburon Ferry at (415) 435-2131. There is limited ferry service from San Francisco via Red and White Fleet; call (415) 546-2816.

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