I have a close friend Jerry (I don’t really have a close friend Jerry, but it sounds cool) who says my entire blog is subject to low moral standards. He also says my blog has no redeeming value. I love that guy. Finally, someone with integrity!
We continue our journey in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park here in southeast Alaska. This park is huge, and everything I describe or show in this post is either in or adjacent to the park. The park is the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut – combined. Driving from the top to the bottom of the park would be the equivalent of driving from Atlanta into Florida, or driving from Boston to New York City, and never leaving the park.
In our first night after departing Nesbana Road and heading south, we camped at a roadside pullout (for free) near Kenney Lake. In fact, you can walk down to the lake as I did, and see foxes, and plenty of evidence of moose. Foxes I saw. All I saw of moose was the evidence that they are eating well.
Upon good counsel from locals near Chitina, we were told about the interest of fisherman right now due to the run of “Copper River Reds”, the name for the salmon that are running right now on, as you may have surmised, the Copper River. These Copper River Reds are supposedly some of the “best of the best” salmon, and we needed to learn more for ourselves.
We left our trailer at Liberty Creek SRA (State Recreation Area) where we were camped, drove our truck into Chitina (population 100-150?), over the river and into what would otherwise be described as the fishing world version of Burning Man, Woodstock, or, I don’t know – Fisherama. The place was jammed (in relative terms – there were maybe 300 people??), but they came tricked out for a weekend of good time and fish. Cool.
Apparently, as locals, you can catch up to as many as 40 fish per family for personal consumption – no selling allowed. None-the-less, we understand these fish are helicoptered into Seattle and can fetch $100 per fish.
So we drive over the river and down to the shores of Copper River (at this point the mini-equivalent of Daytona during race week) and ask people if they have fish to sell. I love salmon, but I had never heard of this particular strain before. There is something about the gills of the fish that strain the glacial silt that makes for exceptional eating. Or so I am told. Silt, schmilt.
No such luck buying fish. Try, try, try, but it is illegal to sell these fish and people who have them are reluctant to break the law or separate from their catch. So as we are departing town sans fish, I pull over to let a truck pass me. As we are stopped on the side of the road, there is a guy just standing there next to his truck. I ask him, “Hey, do you have any fish you would be willing to part with?” He says, “Sure!”
I get out of my truck and look into the back of his. He has several coolers, opens one (which is loaded with fish and ice) and says, “Take one!’
Here is where I shamefully admit otherwise lesser known and yet embarassing facts about myself.
I look into his cooler and think to myself, “Brad, you have never held an entire fish in your hands – in your life. And, the thought of holding a fish is repulsive. AND, you have never cleaned a fish!” Yup, I am a woos. All these thoughts occur in a Nano-second as this fish and me stare at each other. Yes, he out-stared me. Probably limited consolation for him.
So, what do I do? Suck it up and be a man? Or pass. Typically, I would have curled my tail between my legs and passed. But I decided to man up and pick up this bad boy WITH MY BARE HANDS! What a man! Total testosterone high. R R R. Tool time.
By the way, no money changed hands during this transaction. What did change was the blood loss from my face.
CAUTION: The remainder of this post may be disturbing for seasoned fishermen or people of high moral character. Read on at your own risk.
So, now I have a 12-pound, highly coveted, Copper River Red in my hand. Did I mention my bride does not really like salmon? I’m like, what do we do now? I don’t have any garbage bags on the truck, but I do have a beer cooler. So Karen, true angel that she is, parts with a pillowcase and I put the fish in the pillowcase and put it in the beer cooler. Hope he likes a good IPA!
Friends from this point forward will be reluctant to accept a beer from me. “Smells like fish” will be their first thought. “Gosh Brad, thanks anyway, but I stopped drinking beer around, oh, I guess it was around Chapter 3.”
We get back to our campsite, whereupon I begin the process of “cleaning” a fish. I hope I never get cleaned. Clean a fish. Put a dog to sleep. Dirt nap. Light beer. Don’t we find nice ways to describe bad things?
Based on the 7-second instructions from my fish guy (everyone needs a fish guy), I proceed to clean the fish. This is where it probably gets disturbing for any righteous fishermen – don’t look hard at my cleaning job. Or the butter knife used in the process.
I suppose if I was responsible, or the least bit sharing or interesting, I would have captured a picture of the finished and cooked product. Nah, didn’t do it. But suffice it to say, this was REALLY good salmon!! Grilled it with a little olive oil, butter and salt and pepper. Oooooh – yum!
Now I mentioned in passing the Liberty Creek SRA as our campground. Sweet! With about (at most) 6 campsites, we secured one right next to the creek and a waterfall – really pretty. No services, but really nice at $20 per night.
Anyway, we camped at Liberty Creek so we could drive out McCarthy Road (in the park) without dragging our trailer over what we had heard was a rough road. We had already done that in the Yukon and up to the Arctic Circle– no interest in revisiting that drive so soon. Still, the views from the road were spectacular, and we did catch some wildlife along the way.
Years ago McCarthy Road had been a train track that was constructed to support the Kennecott Mining Corporation near McCarthy. The Kennecott copper mine is really interesting. We did not do the tour, but did visit the mining town and there is a really cool 12 minute video that describes how the mine worked. The mine was abandoned after the copper had been extracted from this area. Yet still, the 14 story mine building is to this day described as the tallest wooden building in the world. It is huge!
While at the mine, there are magnificent views of the glaciers, and if so inclined and time permits you can hike down to and out on the glacier. What was really interesting to me was the glacier right behind the mine. At first glance I assumed the rubble to be the outtake from the mine, but it is a glacier that is just rock as the ice has retreated – the ice being our more typical thought when describing a glacier.
The town of McCarthy was pretty cool itself! While you can’t drive there yourself, you can drive out McCarthy Road, walk across a footbridge, and walk (or if so inclined hop a shuttle bus) to McCarthy – which is on the way to the Kennecott Mine.
Upon leaving the park, we headed south towards Valdez – will catch up with you later on that part of our journey!