STORIES OF COURAGE & BRAVERY IN ALASKA'S RUGGED COPPER RIVER VALLEY


There's no genuine logic to living in the Copper Valley. It's in an awkwardly remote location, even for the sprawling Alaska road system. The Copper Valley is just a little too distant from the port of Anchorage, 200 miles away, and all that a coastal city has to offer. Things like plywood, and apples, underwear and chairs, movies, McDonald's, Walmart and Costco. 

Not having easy access to those things makes the Copper Valley somewhat ragged around the edges. This is a place where you have to do without. And where if something has to be done, the fastest, and often the only way, is to do it yourself.

Today, the drive to Anchorage, in a modern car takes about three and a half hours. But it hasn't always been like that. Not long ago, it took five hours and more. Many people refused to "go into town" for weeks, even months, because the trip was so arduous,

The roads are better now. In the past 15 years, the narrow Glenn Highway that links the Copper Valley to Anchorage, has been gradually improved, through road projects that remove mountains, straighten the road, and improve the grade, slowly bringing the Glenn Highway more into compliance with what a typical American "2 lane" country road might look like -- and less like what it was until quite recently -- a paved over trail through the wilderness, that wound back and forth, up and down hills with huge drop offs, with a most no line-of-sight for cars. In many parts of the Glenn, one side of the road is smack against a steep, boulder studded cliff -- and, especially during the springm those boulders suddenly hurtle down onto the road. On the other side, the cliff continues downward, to the Matanuska River, far below. Frozen matanuska river. 

And there ar eno guardrails. Just you and the empty miles of highway, high on the edge, surrounded by unnamed mountains across the wide river valley, in the distance. 

It was so stressful, driving back and forth  to Anchorage over the Glenn Highway, back in the 1980's and 1990's, that local travelers would turn, coming from either direction, exhausted,at into Eureka Lodge after going only 50 miles, to rest up, drink some coffee, and talk to the welcoming lodge owners. 

In many ways, Eureka operated then like one of the old roadhouses -- but instead of being 10 miles along the trail, as lodges were in the old days when people walked, it was five times as far. Because that was 

After the stop at Eureka, loal people would continue on their trek into Anchorage. 

It may seem that a paved highway like the Glenn highway -- a primary rouite through an entire state -- would have certain standards. But then, and even today, it is lacking common highway amenities in ways that can terrify the uninitiated. Locals just suppress their fears of huge falling boulders and steep drop offs 

For example, even on this arterial rouite, there are frequently no guardrails. And it's not as if the drop offs on the Glenn are little gullies. There are no guardrails, for miles -- and the drop offs head straight down, hundreds of feet, off the mountain you're driving along,  to the glacially-fed, wild and uninhabited Matanuska River.

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Write us at ncountry@gci.net! Bearfoot Travel Magazines/Copper River Country Journal, Gakona, Alaska

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