I've heard several locals and visitors exalting McCarthy, where we are, and Cordova, where my brother, Jesse, is this summer (and my bro, Will, was the past two summers), as the "last holdouts" of Alaska. These two tiny towns, they say, are the last to maintain the feel of old Alaska--though somewhat tourist-y they maintain the old charm. One of the last hurdles for Austin to jump in order to become an Alaskan "bush" pilot was to... take a drug test. The nearest place to McCarthy that provides this service is none other than Cordova! So, off we went on Sunday afternoon. The one-hour flight was awe-inspiring. We flew over snow capped peaks, through glacial valleys, beside raging waterfalls, and above iced-over fishing lakes. The highlight of the trip was to see the "Million Dollar Bridge"*; I had just completed two books on the subject and was fortunate to see the structure from the air. Though the bridge is near Cordova there is no longer road access; one must hike, raft, or fly to observe it. We landed on a gravel runway that, as the passenger, I did not observe until seconds before touchdown--all I could see was water! We borrowed a van from the airport and drove ourselves into town to meet up with Jesse.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the boat Jess has been working on--they left today for black cod fishing. He showed us the sleepy little town, we explored the old graveyards, and finished the evening at a great restaurant overlooking the harbor. Afterwards, Austin and I headed to "hippie cove" to spend the night with Jesse. Hippie cove is about a mile out of town and tucked into the woods on the side of a mossy, green mountain. Fishermen from previous years built shelters for themselves to use until they were hired onto a boat; each year these "shanties" are available (free!) on a first-come, first-serve basis. Jess has his own shelter he found covered in tarps with his tent underneath, however, as family visits are a special occasion and his friends were out on the boats for the night, we got to crash the ultimate "shanty". It's comparable to real-life Swiss Family Robinson with uneven wooden steps crawling up the side of the mountain eventually leading to an almost hidden one-room cabin tree house. It has a deck, loft, wood burning stove, oven, pantry, and cassette tapes lining the walls (dating it a bit). It was cozy, warm, and quite the experience.
The next morning we walked back into town, grabbed breakfast, Austin took his test, we bought about 30 Lbs of fish to take back (this was met with many smiling faces), stocked up on groceries, walked with all our gear back to the airport and returned to McCarthy. Visiting Cordova was a lovely experience, enhanced by the presence of family. It's a little tough to get to (only accessible by ferry or plane), so not all Alaskan tourists are fortunate enough to visit. There's a quaint Main St, houses built onto the mountain side overlooking the harbor, delicious fish available, and beautiful snow capped mountains all around.
* The Million Dollar Bridge. Once copper was discovered near Kennecott Glacier, everyone was trying to figure out how to build a railroad to the interior to extract it all. Three groups attempted to begin the railroad in three different locations. J.P Morgan and the Guggenheims invested in the one they believed was most promising. Meanwhile, Michael J. Heney--an astute businessman, well-liked by... all and confident in his judgment--began building inward from Cordova, AK using his own personal savings of one million dollars (this was around 1907). Eventually, the "Morganheims" railroad was washed away in a torrential storm and they purchased Heney's railway. They hired another contractor to complete the railway closer toward Kennecott and work toward Heney's continued construction. Unfortunately, Heney died just a year short of the completion of the railway in 1911.