You're now looking at the Chitina River just before it merges with the Copper River and disappears out of view. The braided Chitina below actually carries more water than the Copper River, despite losing the name battle. (It's actually more of a name tie, though, as Chitina is the native word for copper.) Heavy rains, floods, and outbursts from glacially-dammed lakes can fill the riverbed, in comparison to the channels you're likely seeing now.
This overlook is a nice place to take a picture of the river, as the McCarthy Road will provide no other glimpses. On a windy day, don't venture too far from the car as the winds off the Chitina River have been known to topple people over.
The headwaters of the Chitina River are some 75 miles to the east. The river is fed from glaciers spilling out of the Bagley Icefield as well as from glaciers deep within the St. Elias and Wrangell Mountains. The majority of the Chitina River Valley, which the McCarthy Road is traveling through, lies between the Chugach Mountains to the south and the Wrangell Mountains to the north .
A government explorer named Henry Allen ventured up the Chitina River in 1885 with two companions, hired to establish a route into the Alaskan interior and to collect information on the native population. They'd just begun a harrowing adventure that would take them through 1,500 miles of Alaskan wilderness culminating with a float down the Yukon River. When reaching the upper reaches of the Chitina River, they were subsisting on rabbits and barely hanging on. Luckily for them the natives came to the rescue, nursing them back to health, helping them build a boat made of moose skins, and teaching them how to navigate the river rapids before sending them on their way.
Go back further in history, and learn how Ahtna Natives relied on subsistence harvesting for caches of dried fish and meat to survive the deep cold of winter, and early summer’s “first fish” returns of fresh salmon was a celebrated occasion. Look for the interpretive sign and read about the tradition of teaching respect for this valued resource.