Cordova Chronicles: From 103 degrees south to 60 degrees north

Working slowly through those 101 things to do in Cordova

Is there anything more fun than playing in the mud at Pete Dahl? Just ask 5-year-old Huckleberry Cole Moorhead. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

On July 12, 2018, Alaska Airlines Flight 66 landed in a cloud of dust at Mudhole Smith Airport, and Texans Terry and Rosalon Moorhead arrived at 60 degrees North latitude from 103-degree temperatures south in Houston.

My son-in-law Scott Moorhead’s parents were making their first visit to Alaska, and all my bragging about the biggest state in the union during several visits to the runner-up were on the line.

Scott’s dad walked across the tarmac wearing a black knit cap, evidently anticipating the chilly weather; but of course, he also wears it down in Texas Hill Country, so that was no surprise.

What was a surprise was the marvelous weather during their weeklong stay? It does rain in Cordova on occasion, yet they encountered only one true day of downpours, which was greatly enjoyed by those of the famously baked southwest.

Terry and Rosalon Moorhead check out the Copper River at 27 Mile. The top of the Childs Glacier near the Million Dollar Bridge is just visible in the background, and they also spotted a few seals searching for salmon below the bridge.
Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

The Cordova Chamber of Commerce has a delightful brochure titled “101 Things to do in Cordova,” so we immediately launched our campaign to do them all, starting with a salmon barbecue at our home on Odiak Slough.

The next day began with Scott’s dad somehow adding one more item to the list. Terry is a notoriously early riser and likes to start the day with a cup of coffee from the nearest espresso shop. Hence on the way in from the airport, we had taken a quick spin through Main Street, and pointed out Laura’s, where he could get his black java beginning at 6 a.m. while perusing their eclectic collection of books.

My sister Sharon had generously offered her home on Lake Avenue to the newly arrived Texans for the week, as we had Scott, our daughter Heidi, and grandkids Huck and Liesl already camped out at our estate.

We had given Terry my wife’s car, so he could begin his early morning mug up before we headed ‘em up and moved ‘em out. Well, at 8 a.m., the phone rang, and it was Terry, ready to go. I asked how the coffee was at Laura’s, and he replied, “Great, when I finally got it.”

Turns out our wandering cowpoke had buzzed up to Laura’s at 6 a.m., only to find the doors locked and no one in sight. Aware that small towns all have their idiosyncrasies, he opted to cruise around our sleepy little community, looping back several times in his coffee quest.

Finally, an hour later, running low on gas and having traversed every road in sight, he happened by Laura’s again, and this time the aroma of fresh-brewed espresso wafted about. He was Mary’s first customer, and as is often the Texas style, exchanged pleasantries while being served.

He also glanced at a clock on the wall, and noticed it said 6 a.m., rather than the 7 a.m. on his timepiece. Our rambling buckaroo had overnighted in Seattle and forgotten to move the knob back an hour when jetting westward to a new time zone. It seems Ranger Moorhead had also forgotten how to get back to Sharon’s house, despite likely driving past it several times in his hour-long reconnaissance expedition.

Mary pointed out it was on Lake Avenue, with a few landmarks to help the venerable explorer find his wife Rosalon, who by now was probably wondering if her hubby was lost at sea, which is foreign to much of Longhorn country.

Anyhow, it was an entertaining beginning to a perfect visit. Add item 102 to the things to do in Cordova: Get lost trying to find a cup of coffee.

In calm waters just above North Island, Rosalon Moorhead anticipates catching a halibut. Alas, it was sea otter, eagles and sea lions that provided the entertainment, and the only thing biting was the bugs.
Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times

Over the next seven days, we hiked up Mt. Eyak, roared down Alaganik to our duck cabin at Pete Dahl, failed to catch a halibut, gathered ice from Sheridan Glacier for perfectly chilled drinks, compared the Copper River to the Pecos, dined on blacktail deer sauerbraten, halibut fish and chips, Baja tacos (plus “the best ceviche I have ever eaten,” Terry said), and at least five dozen oysters from Windy Bay.

Why, a brown bear even cooperated by wandering down Odiak Slough, and Rosalon was thrilled to watch a beaver slap its tail several times at 8 Mile, although we never did see a moose.

In between, raucous entertainment was provided by the grandchildren, who under typical grandparent reign, are given free rein to do just about anything they want, as their parents look on in disbelief.

It was a marvelous visit, yet I can think of at least 91 things still remaining to be done from that Chamber of Commerce list of 101 — including landing a halibut.

Prospects are bright we may chip away at that list. Both want to come back.

Especially Terry.

Now that he knows where to get his morning coffee.

Guided by former Mt. Eyak snowboarder Heidi Shellhorn Moorhead, third from left, Liesl, Scott, Huck, Terry and Rosalon Moorhead enjoy the view from the Midway Station of the ski area. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times
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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and third place in 2017.