The Changing Face of Child’s Glacier:
Leading away from Cordova is a road that stretches for almost 50 miles and then fizzles out after crossing the Million Dollar Bridge. Although some may think so, this is not a “road to nowhere,” as it ends near the massive face of Child’s Glacier—surely one of the most beautiful glaciers in all of Alaska.
The glacier face is taller than a 20-story building. We have already seen quite a few glaciers on this trip--even hiking on one and kayaking into ice caves of another. But Child’s Glacier was the first one that allowed us to witness “calving”—a term that refers to the glacier’s release of large slabs of ice, often with an accompanying crack and thundering roar as the ice plummets into the water below. The resulting waves would glide across the Copper River to our viewing area on the opposite river bank. None that we saw exceeded 2 or 3 feet. However, in 1993, a 30-foot wave rose up and supposedly swept a woman from her perch.
Much of our time at Child’s Glacier was spent just sitting and watching the ice--in sun and rain and bone-chilling wind—listening to the loud pops and rumbling. And waiting. Every once in a while, we were rewarded with a tremendous ice fall, which would end with whoops of delight from us and everyone around us.
We took a break from glacier watching and hiked about a mile along the river to reach the Million Dollar Bridge—a former railway bridge that had cost over a million dollars to build in 1910. We walked across the entire bridge, and I have to admit that it stretched my comfort zone. The lack of a tall railing, combined with the narrow width and the age of the bridge, kicked my mother instincts into high gear; thankfully, both Genevieve and Sebastian listened fairly well to my mantra of “Stay away from the edges!”
The bridge was once part of the railway line that extended a couple of hundred miles over the mountains from the Kennecott copper mines to Cordova. After the mines closed in 1938, the tracks were no longer used. Since Cordova had no roads to connect it with the rest of Alaska, some people in the 1950’s envisioned building a road (the Copper River Highway) over the old railway line. The plan was abandoned in 1964, however, after a 9.2 earthquake dropped one of the bridge spans into the river.
A woman we met at the Cordova museum told us that the Million Dollar Bridge should really be called the “$17 Million Dollar Bridge,” as the U.S. government had recently spent over $17 million to repair the dropped span.
Back at Child’s Glacier, we spent many more hours in front of the face, becoming intimately familiar with the temporary ice formations, giving many of them nicknames and predicting which parts might slide off next. Right before we left the glacier area, we finally witnessed the fall of a colossal spire, about 15 stories high, that we called “the finger”. It was definitely the grand finale to our time here.
By Kathy, Ben, Genevieve and Sebastian
The One Journey At A Time Family