Have you ever had the urge to push aside the “Do Not Enter” signs and explore the unknown? I do pretty much every day. It’s almost like a dare -the best stuff is beyond this sign…do you dare break the rules to discover it? Perhaps that’s just me, but somehow I doubt it. On my last assignment I got to do just that, but legally! That’s right, Just the Gritty is on the straight and narrow. Apparently all I had to do was join up with Atlas Obscura, a “compendium of amazing places that aren’t found in your average guidebook.”

So one weekend a little while ago, fellow Untapped Cities writer Faern and I hit up Alcatraz Island with this awesome group of guides. What a day it was! I’m ever-curious about the unknown, and that day was full of exploration and discovery. The day was all about the gardens of Alcatraz, both public and secret.

From the very beginning we got to go in the opposite direction of the main tour groups. Number one, that means fewer people (tourists) to deal with. Number two, we got all sorts of well-deserved jealous looks.

Our first stop was with our guest tour guide of the day from The Garden Conservancy. She took us aside and gave us a brief history on the gardens of Alcatraz, complete with photos from the island’s ‘glory’ days. I had no idea how many uses the island has had – it wasn’t just a prison. We then moved up the hill to get our work gloves for the day. That right, this wasn’t a passive tour. Instead, half our day was going to be spent volunteering in one of the gardens.

We walked all over the grounds – from the hidden gardens (unseen from the public roads), to the large prisoner’s gardens on the far side of the island. We stopped at about 8 different points for brief history lessons and were given ample time to roam and, in my case, take all sorts of photos. So here you have them, a smattering of images from my day on the Rock. Seriously, look up the Obscura Society and get involved with them. The guides were all awesome, and the day will go down in history for me. What an opportunity; not just to go beyond the usual public reach, but to actually dig and volunteer in the beautiful historic gardens. This girl is still smiling.

Get in touch with the author @justthegritty.