Visiting Cordova Alaska with Copper River Salmon
1,294 miles of travel. 5 hours of flight time, a world away and a eyes opened in a whole new way. That was the nexus of my trip to Cordova, Alaska – home of Copper River Salmon. The scenery, the people, and the deep seeded connection that they have to their surroundings is something to be unequivocally admired. And this year, I was lucky enough to travel up there to see the operation that brings us all down here in the lower 48 the salmon we prize every summer.
Kaela of Cookin’ and Kickin’ – my travel buddy for this Great White North Adventure – and I met up in Seattle bright and early to catch our flight up to Anchorage. Cups of Starbucks in hand (obvi) and we were ready to go – with the exception of her nearly getting lost in the labryinth of the Seattle International Airport…
After a few hours of flight time, lots of reading on a book I was woefully behind in and a few bumps along the way we dropped our bags in our hotel in downtown Cordova, and grabbed dinner with Jessyka of CRS, only to witness one of the best sunsets outside the Palouse that I’ve ever seen. Everyone should be so lucky. There was nothing to do but sit back and drink it all in perfectly full and contented.
With one restful night’s sleep under my belt thanks to the torrential downpour the night before that lulled me back to sleep in about the same amount of time that it woke me up – we caught a moment of reprieve in the rain to go walk the docks and meet a few of the people who call the Copper River Delta home.
There are roughly 220 boats in the Copper River fleet, with six of them being run by women. And dang it takes a certain set of lady-cohones to run a boat by your lonesome. But the pride that these men and women have in what they do is incredibly admirable. It’s not a job. It IS a way of life in every sense of the word.
After grabbing a couple of fish ourselves, we took off in our gaiters, feeling totally legit and bad ass, to go paint some fish. Fish painting is precisely what it sounds like – transposing painted fish onto paper, or in our cases – aprons and baby onesies! It was like being back in elementary school, in all the best ways. 6 women with fish, paint, aprons and smoked salmon pizza for lunch – C’mon who can this not be fun!?!
A fish for painting.
Early the next morning when the fog was still setting low on the water, the girls and I all headed out to Orca Adventure Lodge for some kayaking before we took off for the Eyak river and a little fishing.
Orca Adventure Lodge is the lodge and former first cannery in Cordova. With over 100 years of history under it’s belt it’s a sight to see. The old chow house is still used today for the guests and employees alike. And seeing a 114 year old cast iron range still being put to use today really puts the history of Orca into perspective.
I can’t tell you how intense the heat radiating from that beast was. Or how bad I wanted to grab a pan and get cooking!
Waking up, kayaking and seeing otters and waterfalls abound is not a bad way to start the day. E.V.E.R.
As it turns out – one of my old buddies from my WSU Logging Spots days was actually guiding up at Orca the same time I was there! Of all places in the world to run into someone – it’s Cordova. Brian (the guy in the red sweatshirt, bottom center) was out and about getting a last minute guide that took him off the boat we were going to be on together. DANG! But such is life. Our replacement guide though – Awesome guy.
(Now let’s play a game of “Where’s Megan!” – That’s me on the bottom row, and the chick on the left. HI!!)
Oh – you didn’t know I threw axes and ran with chainsaws for fun? Well, now you do.
Our guide Ray – who reminded me of uncle – lives 5 minutes down the road from me here in Seattle! I swear – all paths cross in Cordova, Alaska. Who would have thunk it?
But how did I do fishing? To say that my fishing streak has come to an end would be a terrible and unfortunate understatement. About 5 minutes into settling into our spot of choice, Kaela landed a whopper and I had a fish on. Mine turned out to be a wee dollie – and Kaela landed a biggun that was half the size of HER!!
Mine was the length of my forearm. *hangs head in shame*
It was a riotous couple of hours on the river with Emile, our secondary guide giving us a salmon dance for good luck. It probably did the opposite, with his dancing being roughly the equivalent of Elaine from Seinfeld. But it was a good laugh none the less.
Continuing on with our excited day, our next stop was the Sheridan Glacier. As we drove out the delta, you could see it extending through the Chugach range setting the scene.
Seeing this glacier up close was mind boggling. Sure we saw glaciers on our honeymoon – but walking out to them, touching them, licking the ice (like all classy women do, natch.) was something mind blowing. Nothing else will ever make you feel so small. The crags at the top of the moving wave of ice was worn down and softened by years of wind as it reached its final destination.
During the winter, when everything freezes over going to the glacier is a popular destination for a little family ice skating and locals will even chip off large blocks to use as center pieces for their parties, chipping off bits for their whiskey.
I need a glacier to chip ice off for parties!
But one thing Kaela learned the hard way – was not to wade out to far and top your boots.
It makes for a frosty and soggy walk back.
Later that night we got to participate in the Fungus Festival that brought nearly the whole town together. Kaela, Jess, Beth and I pitched in to help prepare the dinner for almost 150 people, where every course had mushrooms within. Even dessert. Yeah – I know!
Candy cap mushrooms flavored our dessert of cheesecake in phyllo cups. But the star to me was the lamb ragout with porcini mushrooms over cheesey polenta. And when I say cheesy, I mean cheesy. The polenta walked by the cheese and said “Hi”, but to say polenta graced the dish would be an misrepresentation of the facts. And I loved ever minute of it!
After too much food, too much wine, and a lot of time with devout Cordova locals, it was time to lay down for our last night. Leaving the next morning with sun shining all around us was a difficult thing to do. Meeting the people we met, seeing the commitment they have to their craft and to the sustainability of their way of life was nothing short of admirable and inspiring.
Copper River Salmon, and the community that surrounds the delta is committed to protecting the sustainability of these prized fish for generations to come. And I am forever thankful that I got to experience Cordova first-hand. It was something I will never forget.
If you’d like to see more Copper River Salmon and recipes featuring this prized fish – check out these recipes!
*Note* Thank you to Copper River Salmon for allowing me the chance to visit your town. Expenses for this trip were funded by Copper River Salmon. All opinions are my own.*