This 35-mile-wide wetlands complex east of Cordova, a crucial habitat for millions of migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway, is one of North America's most spectacular vistas. The delta's nearly 700,000 acres are thick with marshes, forests, streams, lakes, and ponds. Numerous terrestrial mammals including moose, wolves, lynx, mink, and beavers live here, and the Copper River salmon runs are world famous. When the red and king salmon hit the river in spring, there's a frantic rush to net the tasty fish and rush them off to markets and restaurants all over the country.
The Million Dollar Bridge, an impressive feat of engineering notable for its latticework, has a tectonic past. At Mile 56 along the Copper River Highway, it was a railroad project completed in 1910 for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway to carry copper ore to market from the mines at Kennicott. Soon after construction was completed, the nearby Childs and Miles Glaciers threatened to overrun the railroad
and bridge. Almost like a silent-film damsel-on-the-railroad-tracks scenario, the glaciers stopped just short of the railroad. In 1938, though, the copper market collapsed, making the route economically obsolete. The far span of the bridge was toppled by the 1964 earthquake and wasn't rebuilt until 2005, when it was deemed more economical to remove the railway altogether and make the bridge accessible only by vehicle.
The Forest Service built an impressive viewing pavilion across the Copper River from Childs Glacier —famous for the spectacle of its calving icebergs and tidal waves—but in 2011 a natural change in the river's flow compromised a bridge at Mile 36. Reconstruction was supposed to begin in 2015, but that seems unlikely for budgetary and other reasons. The only way to see the glacier now is to book a boat tour out of Cordova or float 100 miles or so from upriver. The difficulty of getting here has not been a deterrent, however, as visitors from all over the world still come just to see the awe-inspiring glacier. The waves produced by falling ice frequently wash migrating salmon onto the riverbank. Brown bears sometimes patrol the area looking for an easy meal, so keep your eyes on the lookout for them—and the waves, which have been recorded as high as 30 feet.
Copper River Hwy., Cordova, Alaska, United States