No Road

We left a lot of things behind when we departed for Cordova—high-speed Internet, hairdryers and happy hours. Though we were in a new landscape with different sights, sounds and customs, there were plenty of reminders that we weren’t too far from the lower forty-eight. For me, those reminders came as bumper stickers, and the most ubiquitous bumper sticker here was one that read, “NO ROAD Cordova, Alaska.”

The longest road in Cordova ends fifty miles outside of town at the Miles Glacier Bridge, paved on top of a railroad that was once used to transport copper ore. Though the road ends on the far side of the bridge, the now abandoned railroad continues past the nearby town of Chitina. Throughout the years, this abandoned railroad has been the proposed path for a road connecting Cordova to Chitina and thus the Alaskan road system. This connection would undoubtedly bring in more tourists, more fishermen and other outside economic interests—all with the potential of unbalancing an ecosystem and economy already vast and fragile.

The Good Friday earthquake of 1964 destroyed part of the bridge, dumping one end of the span into the river below. Repairs were made to keep the bridge usable, but the road to the bridge has been washed out for years about 35 miles from town. After we left this year, the road washed out only 14 miles from town. It’s a tough place to maintain a road.

In Cordova, “no road,” is not a simple reference to the fact there are no roads connecting Cordova to anywhere else in Alaska, or the world. It is a sign of respect, a bow, an acknowledgement of our inferiority to the power nature will wield. Comparatively, there is no road in Cordova and there is a lot of nature—and rightly so, the salmon fishery here is so deeply ingrained in the economy, ecology and lifestyle that anything but the dominance of nature would mean failure for humans.

P146-21; Alaska State Library;Loreta Larsan Photograph Collection