It rains 125 days a year in Cordova, and census data shows that half of all households in town have at least one person involved with the fishing industry. These two facts seem central to life here. But there’s a distinctively artistic vibe to this fishing town: Cordova at times seems like a place that sprouted, fully formed, from the brain of Northwestern writer Tom Robbins.
There are two ways to get to Cordova: You can fly or take the ferry.
I arrived on the M/V Chenega, the Alaska Marine Highway System’s fast ferry that serves the Cordova-Valdez-Whittier route. The travel time from Whittier to Cordova is just over three hours, and the route passes forested islands and mountains. Be advised that winter sailings are often delayed or cancelled due to inclement weather.
I stayed at the Prince William Motel, which has spacious rooms located right in Cordova’s compact, historical downtown.
Downtown is Orca Book & Sound, one of the most perfect bookstore-coffeehouse-art gallery shops I’ve ever encountered. Inside is a judicious selection of selection of hardcover and paperback books, including lots of Alaskan authors. Local pottery, art and jewelry are for sale, along with a selection of funny cards (playing to Alaskan sensibilities, many involve dogs or fish) and a little espresso stand in the back. Upstairs is a comfortable loft where you can rent time on a computer and sip a cup of coffee while staring out windows that overlook the harbor on one side and downtown on the other. I spent many hours at Orca Book & Sound, listening to afro-pop and NPR on the radio. Another downtown stop worth checking out is Copper River Fleece, where you can find beautifully custom-made jackets, hats and vests. (Not cheap, but beautiful.)
For dinner, I headed to the Reluctant Fisherman or just “The Reluctant,” as locals call it, overlooks the harbor. I had a Kodiak Nut Brown Ale and marinated olives with cibatta bread at the bar, in the company of many bearded locals intently watching a NFL football game. Two fisheries biologists took a break from discussing football to bemoan grant applications.
The next day, I rented a car for a few hours (Chinook Auto Rentals) and drove out to Eyak Lake, a shallow freshwater lake shaped like a three-armed starfish. I stopped at the packed lakeside Powder House Restaurant & Bar for a bowl of clam chowder. The restaurant, decorated in a style that could be called Second Amendment chic, was packed with locals. The Killer Whale Café, downtown, serves healthy, hearty lunches between 11 am and 2 pm in the winter.
Past the Powder House, the Copper River Highway quickly flattens into a broad plain laced with rivers. The 48-mile highway terminates just after the Million Dollar Bridge, at Child’s Glacier. You are likely to see trumpeter swans, which breed in the area, as well as starkly beautiful views of delta, mountains and sky. The last part of the road is closed in the wintertime.
Back in town, I headed out to the ferry dock. I wanted to watch a raft of otters that like to hang out (and what do otters do, other than hang out?) by the dock. Down the road from the ferry, I found Hippie Cove, a ramshackle group of dead buses, cabins and campsites inhabited by off-the-grid types, mostly in the summer months. On this rainy November day, it was empty save two guys chopping wood and loading it into a pickup. Orca Road terminates at the Orca Adventure Lodge, a restored cannery that specializes in fishing and flight-seeing trips.