As a kick off to my paternity leave, we visited our good friend, Bonnie, in Copper Center Alaska. After working many years for Princess, she is the GM in charge of the Copper Center Princess Wilderness Lodge, which is a lovely hotel in the middle of copper center.
Where is Copper Center? It’s about 4 hours Northeast of Anchorage on the copper river of the Copper River Salmon fame. Worthy of note, is that salmon can be branded "Copper River" if it was fished out of any river out of the Copper River Valley. The actual copper river itself is a muddy, silty arterial river that is near impossible to fish in because the salmon can’t even see the bait. The Copper River can only be fished by permitted natives using a fishwheel or by netting.
What is there to do there?
1. Visit our very good friend Bonnie at the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge. Clearly, the jewel of the Copper Valley… and the finest restaurant within a 25 mile radius…
2. Visit the Wrangell St. Elias National Park – the largest National Park. (6 times the size of Yellowstone). Caleb got his National Park Passport there along with his first stamp. Not a bad place to start off…
3. Visit the Kennecott Copper Mill – Amazing ghost town where they mined a mind-boggling amount of copper during a time that the nation was going through a copper frenzy electrifying the country. Take a look at the picture of the mill… We were given a tour through it. When I first set foot in this 14-story building that’s a whisper away from crumbling, I wondered if Alaska has any form of liability law at all? It seems like the kind of state where if you’re killed, most jurist would think you’ve brought it on yourself with smug indifference… Perhaps not our parenting highlight to take our two baby children through all 14 stories of this monster mill.
4. Go to church. LDS Church is the same everywhere (with some distinct local flavors stronger in some places than others)… We visited a branch in Glennallen about 25 miles away from Copper Center. There were about 25 members in the congregation. Two missionaries and a high counselor spoke at the meeting. All gave wonderful talks. One excerpt that stuck with me: Obedience is the price, Faith is the power, Love is the motive, The Spirit is the key, and Christ is the reason.
5. Go to the second finest restaurant in the Copper Valley – the Tonsina Lodge. On the 3rd night in Copper Center, Bonnie took us to the second finest restaurant in Copper Valley. It was about an hour away. When we drove up, we got a taste of small town life, as Bonnie warned us that the guy hanging out by the door was an employee they just let go last week. Like most restaurants in the area, it was a bar with some seating. They all seemed to know Bonnie, and when we walked into the table section of the establishment, a few people entered into the kitchen and said, "We’d better turn on the frier and the broiler… " I’m absolutely convinced that this was indeed the second nicest place in the Copper Valley, but it did not assuage my nervousness – My kids were in a bar, the ex-employee seemed to be hovering next to our rental car, and what did it say about the quality of the food, if the oven has to be turned on when a customer arrives? It ended up that the ex-employee was friendly and the food was fine. We got a little bit of Alaska culture and had a glimpse of what it means to be social when you live out in about as remote solitude as it gets.
6. See the wildlife. Although it wasn’t a bonanza of wildlife, we did get to see a moose, mountain goats, and bald eagle. No bears…
7. Gold panning. Caleb could not stop talking about finding gold! As luck would have it, Bonnie hooked us up with a jet boat tour where they took us to an outdoor prospecting exhibit where we had a chance to pan for gold. After 5 minutes of swishing around some dirt, Caleb’s gold fever quickly waned. Fortunately, our tour guide found a few flakes and put them in a little clear envelope for Caleb. Caleb seemed uneasy for a while, because it was unclear if he was supposed to give it back. It ended up that he got to keep it. Furthermore, they had a raffle to give away a bronzed spike from the Kennecott railroad. Caleb won. Made out like a bandit..
All in all, a lovely trip to Alaska. A big thanks to Bonnie for letting us come up and visit disrupting her busy schedule. We are all so proud of the success she is finding in Copper Center.