July 22: Copper River Delta

Woke up in our hovel (Prescott has some serious concerns about its construction — let’s just say it wouldn’t have survived the earthquake of ’64 that demolished a lot of the town). We took some pictures of the random objects in the yeard and then spent the rest of misty/rainy morning in Cordova. Prescott worked for a while in the Cordova library, using their wireless service, while I meandered through the tiny Cordova museum. It’s an old museum, the type that looks like it was set up in the 1960s and has barely been updated since. Some of the objects don’t even have labels. But I appreciated the pictures of the town 100 years ago and the newspaper articles about “The Businessmen of Cordova” from 1911 and “President Harding Visits Our Glacier” in 1923.

Cordova is a real fishing town: all of the activity takes place along the harbor; giant crowds of seagulls cluster on every roof; and there’s not much attention to building upkeep. Tourists are an after-thought, so beyond one great coffee-shop/bookstore, there’s not much to see in town. Oh, and it seems to rain here every single day. We had lunch at Baja Taco – which runs out of an old schoolbus – and took our rental car out the Copper River Highway.

The Copper River is the fourth-largest river in Alaska, fed by six glaciers. The highway over and along the river is 50 miles long, 40 of it bumpy gravel road. The delta is quietly beautiful, boggy and marshy, with lots of birds. We saw a moose within our first fifteen minutes on the road; we saw a beaver swim into its dam not long after.
The road ends at two scenic points: Childs Glacier, which is a giant glacier that calves right into the Copper River; and the Million Dollar Bridge, one of those great feats of engineering that was built in the mining craze of the early 1900s. We spent about two hours at the glacier, listening to it pop and bang and explode, watching little icebergs (from Miles Glacier) drift by, and trying to stay warm. We saw one enormous piece crash into the river, which was really exciting.

On our drive back to town, we stopped for a little hike up a glacial haystack, on the aptly-named Haystack Trail. Mosses, ferns, mushrooms – it reminded me a little of hiking near Olympia, Washington, and a little of hiking Mt. Bernard in Maine.

After dinner at Baja Taco (our second time there in one day, but Cordova isn’t exactly a gourmet heaven), Prescott and I went out in search of wildlife. We drove along the ocean and saw sea otters and harbor seas just off the coast. We then drove along Lake Eyak and up Power Creek hoping to find bears. We did find enormous congregations of sockeye salmon (“reds”) choking the stream and the entrance to the lake – that’s where I would have been, if I were a bear – but we had no large mammal sightings. Still, a beautiful drive – the lake was misty in the evening fog, and waterfalls ran down along the road all around us.

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