I grew up in a fishing family. Not a family that enjoys to fish, or goes fishing on weekends to unwind, but a family that does it for a living. The fact that we spent every summer of my childhood on a boat, the fact that my family talks about boats as if they were people–“oh look, it’s the Miss Veldee!”– or the fact that entire conversations are often had around the price of fish didn’t really strike me as unusual until I became an adult and realized that not everyone owns a pair of xtratuffs, and the phrase “well, out on the boat we…” generally needs some further explanation.
In fact, lest you think I jest, here’s a picture from waaaay before I was born. This handsome man is my grandpa in his early days of fishing. Lookin’ pretty shnazzy eh?
Since my family sold out of (quit) fishing several years ago, we no longer live in Cordova and have rarely had a reason to go back. Finally, this summer, my mom and aunt decided that it was time for those who joined our family after we stopped fishing–my younger cousins, my aunt’s husband, my husband–had to travel to Cordova, Alaska to get a taste of what it was like to grow up there. So, we all loaded on to
an the Alaska Airlines plane headed for Cordova. (This, by the way, is a plane that seats half the normal amount of passengers to leave more room for…fish.)
Not wanting to look like an outsider, after landing my mom immediately donned a pair of xtratuffs. These are to Cordova what a north face fleece is to Seattle. Or, what yoga pants are to female college students regardless of the activity they are participating in…
Despite the fact that we were fishing for some of the most highly sought after salmon in the world, Copper River Salmon, summers in Cordova (pop. 2000) were not exactly the culinary treat you might imagine. (Why isn’t there an eye roll emoticon?) Mostly we had salmon. So. Much. Salmon. Salmon with onions, salmon with lemon pepper, salmon with barbecue sauce, salmon with ranch dressing, pickled salmon, smoked salmon, basically salmon with anything to trick you into thinking you were eating something other than salmon–the real treat was when you got something else–spot shrimp, steamer clams, razor clams (more on those later), or halibut. If you are interested in hearing a few good commercial fishing stories, and learning some creative ways to fix salmon–that are tastier than the aforementioned ranch dressing trick–check out the cookbook Fishes and Dishses. Our disdain of salmon, especially as kids, is a bit ironic now, since these days I love Copper River Salmon, but can hardly afford to buy it… There is at least one “can’t miss” foodie destination in Cordova and that is Baja Taco. Whether made with salmon or halibut (still my preference), Baja Taco will ruin all other fish tacos for you. As you can see above, Baja Taco has expanded their original truck to allow for a few indoor seats. I may have forgotten to mention, Cordova gets over 80 inches of rain a year (compared to Seattle’s 36), so indoor seating is essential.
When you live in a town of 2000 people with no roads in or out, you have to get creative. Growing up, on one of the three days when it wasn’t raining a fun outing might consist of going “out the road” to see the glaciers or play on the sand dunes.
All but the most
cynical seasoned fisherman can’t help but be in awe when granted a close up view of a bear, moose, or eagle in the wild. This summer, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a cub, and saw a few massive prints, but otherwise were forced to be satisfied with swans, otters, and other Alaskan critters.
Despite the rain, Cordova is beautiful. And on a sunny day, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else. One of the towns only actual “sights” is the Million Dollar Bridge, which crosses the Copper River between Miles and Child’s Glaciers. (The road them promptly stops.)
Unfortunately, one of the bridges closer to town washed out a few years ago, making it impossible to cross the river by car and make it all the way “out the road.” But, thanks to our friends at the Riverside Inn who offer an airboat tour to Child’s Glacier and the Million Dollar Bridge, we were still able to complete our nostalgic adventure.
The water was pretty low when we visited, but usually Child’s Glacier is quite active and you can usually see lots of calving (when icebergs break off and fall into the river).
From the bridge, we also enjoyed spectacular views of Miles Glacier.
After hitting up all of the Cordova hotspots, such as the Netloft (my favorite craft store), the Orca Bookshop, and Copper River Fleece, we headed to David Rosenthal’s Gallery where my husband may have indulged me by purchasing a beautiful painting of the area.
Finally, my husband and I joined my grandma on the ferry to Whittier to spend a few days with family in Anchorage. As we pulled out of Cordova, we got a glimpse of Mummy Island (the tiny island shaped like a sandcastle off in the distance) where my grandmother spent her childhood summers while her parents dug clams.
Stay tuned for part two of our Alaskan adventure in and around Anchorage, plus a yummy recipe for razor clams!