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Cordova's greatest export is known the world over. Copper River salmon are one of the delicacies on plates at fancy restaurants once the fish start coming home in mid-May.
While the fish have name recognition, Cordova itself doesn't. That's really too bad. The community of about 2,200 people on the eastern side of Prince William Sound is a true taste of Alaska.
Visitors who make it to Cordova - and it's made a little more challenging by its off-the-road location - won't find hordes of tourists like they will at Denali National Park, the Kenai River or downtown Anchorage.
It's a remote fishing town that's not so remote you can't enjoy it. The Alaska Marine Highway provides access to Cordova from both Whittier and Valdez. The fast ferry Chenega can get visitors and their automobiles from Whittier to Cordova in about 3.25 hours. There also is daily air service.
Upon arriving, settle into a pace of life that mimics the community. Cordova is, first and foremost, a fishing town. Sometimes things are fast, sometimes they're slow.
"Cordova is a community that's Alaska like you think Alaska should be," said Martin Moe, executive director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce. "It's sort of like all of Alaska was in the 1950s. That's a good thing, and we don't have a problem with that.
"The general reason people want to come here is they want to get away to an old, working fishing village."
While today's Cordova is built around commercial fishing, it wasn't always that way.
Cordova was named in the early 1900s by Michael Henry, builder of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. Cordova served as the railroad terminus and shipping port for the rich copper ore that came from the Kennecott Mine. The railroad was 196 miles long, starting in the Wrangell Mountains, crossing the Copper River at the Million Dollar Bridge and ending in Cordova. The mine closed in 1938.
In 1958, the bridge was converted from a railway to a roadway. It sits at the end of the Copper River Highway. The bridge was damaged in the 1964 earthquake, with a portion of one span dropping into the river. The bridge was repaired in 2005.
The bridge and nearby Childs Glacier create one of Cordova's main attractions.
The glacier ends at the edge of the powerful Copper River. As the river undercuts the 300-foot-tall glacier, huge chunks of ice fall into the river. A night spent camping at the Childs Glacier Recreation Area will often be interrupted by what sounds like thunder booming in the distance. When you realize you're one of just a tiny handful of people who are living the experience, it becomes enjoyable, not irritating. The recreation area has offered walk-in tent camping sites for years, but new this summer should be an official campground for RVs.
The 48-mile Copper River Highway is gravel most of the way, but it's an easy drive and even makes for an enjoyable bicycle ride. The highway crosses the Copper River Delta, one of the best places in the world for watching shorebirds and the largest wetland on the Pacific Coast. The annual shorebird festival is May 3-6. Visitors to the highway may spot moose, bears and bald eagles, in addition to many other birds.
Special sections editor Steve Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4316. Visit his Alaska travel blog at www.alaska.com/alaskology.
- Bridge and ice: You must travel the Copper River Highway to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier. The view is worth more than a million. From the deck of the bridge, Childs Glacier is to the west and Miles Glacier is to the east.
- It is a fishing town: There are two ways to enjoy it: 1) Get out on a charter or fish for salmon from a roadside stream, 2) Watch the commercial fleet coming and going.
- Ride the waves: Getting to Cordova can be half the fun. The Alaska Marine Highway's MV Chenega only takes a bit more than three hours to cross from Whittier to Cordova. The scenery is some of the most stunning you will see.