Lovely day at the Cape

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Taking my car for a drive this morning, we went around the historical part of Foxboro then Cally and I took a drive out to Cape Cod to a small community of Wellfleet, about 100 miles away - where they go on vacation whenever possible.

After reading the geology book last night, I kept my eyes open for the rock, lake, stream and landscape types mentioned and saw some amazing formations and little ponds. The glaciers must have really scraped the ground around here pretty bare as there are little glacial pothole lakes, and scarred bedrock all over the place.

Once we left the mainland part of Massachusetts and started heading towards the Cape, we crossed over Cape Cod Canal. Its' web site tells me that "The idea of linking two tidal rivers to create an all-water route across the seven mile isthmus of Cape Cod was first proposed by captain Miles Standish of the Plymouth Colony. But Standish's dream for a waterway through the isthmus was far too large a task for a small band of pilgrims. During the American Revolution, a canal at Cape Cod took on an importance as a way to circumvent British harbor blockades. Throughout the nineteenth century, many plans were made, but none succeeded. A wealthy New York financier eventually made the pilgrim's dream a reality. The grand opening of the Cape Cod Canal was July 29, 1914. It was expensive for mariners - as much as $16.00 for a trip by schooner, a considerable amount in those days. This, along with the narrow 100 foot width and shallow depth of the canal made many mariners continue to use the routes around the cape. As a result, tolls did not live up to expectations and the Cape Cod Canal became a losing proposition.

The Canal was purchased by the U.S. Government on March 30, 1928. The waterway was widened and deepened to nearly 500 feet wide and 32 feet deep, removing 30 million cubic yards of earth. All this work employed a total of 1400 men during the Great Depression. By 1940 the completed Cape Cod Canal represented the widest sea-level canal in the world. Ship traffic could safely transit the waterway and now over 20,000 vessels of all types use the Canal annually.

The Canal is crossed by two bridges, the Sagamore and the Bourne. We crossed over the Sagamore Bridge and almost immediately noticed a change in vegetation. The trees were smaller and skinnier probably because the soil is almost completely sand. Natural vegetation I believe, includes oaks and other hardwoods but in the 1830s, pitch pines were planted to stabilize the wind eroding, bay filling soil and plants have been reclaiming the soil ever since. This is quite a change from the rocky soul of the mainland. One of the tourist brochures noted that "the Cape is a glacial deposit that is constantly undergoing natural changes as winds and water move sand along the shorelines tearing away one place and building up another. You can get a good sense of how quickly the land is diminishing at the Marconi Station Site at Wellfleet, where the peninsula is only a mile wide. Much of the high cliff has eroded since Marconi built his towers there in 1901.

We drove up the Mid Cape Highway and stopped for the most expensive gas I've seen so far - I think it was about $3.17 a gallon. Also had my first taste of a Dunkin Donut; I think Tim Horton's is tastier. Our first stop of the day was the Salt Pond where we picked up some maps and information. We were going to go for a walk around the marsh but decided to continue on to Wellfleet and the Audubon Society. There were a fair number of birds at the tourist centre feeding area (sparrows, blackbirds and one beautiful jay). There were not as many on the beaches other than gulls feeding on something I did not want to inquire into too deeply. We also saw some little holes in the sand which were, I think, hermit crabs and I was able to take a photo of one before it scuttled off into its nest. On the trip back saw some lovely lilac and some type of white flowered tree as well as some spring budding on a pine tree. We also commiserated with other birders as they did not see much either. It was; however, a nice walk in the sea air.

Had a very nice lunch in town at "The Lighthouse" in Wellfleet I had a delicious meal of Kale soup and a Linguica Burger (Portuguese spiced meat rather than hamburger). Apparently these are traditional Portuguese items offered as they settled around here and their meal styles remain.

We then took a drive out to the east side of the Cape (I think it was Cahoon Beach) where there are lovely sand dunes. We hiked down the very steep side of the dune next to the parking lot and onto the flat beach. We were able to wander there for a while, pick up and discard little rocks and shells and watch the footprints of human and animal (dogs and birds I think) as they wandered off into the distance. Unfortunately there were also tire tracks on the beach; however, we tried to ignore those. The Atlantic Ocean waves were bringing the tide in, rather rapidly, I thought, as we walked ever closer to a little point where it seemed the waves came in from both sides. As we watched, a large flock of something, maybe cormorants swirled overhead and eventually landed just ahead of us. It was a lovely peaceful way of spending a part of the afternoon.

We then drove to a relatively isolated series of little pothole lakes. These are, in fact, "kettle" lakes. Wikipedia notes that a kettle (or kettle hole) is a small, often round depression formed as a result of glacial action. They are formed when a large piece of ice breaks from the edge of a retreating glacier, and becomes partially buried under sediment deposited by the glacier. After it melts, this fragment of the glacier leaves a small depression in the landscape. When water occupies a kettlehole, it may be called a kettle pond or kettle lake or even a pothole lake. Unlike most ponds and lakes, kettleholes often have no inflowing or outflowing streams.

We went first to a camp area with canoes which should be getting set up for the Memorial Day Weekend but doesn't appear to be doing so yet. In the far distance we could see a little inlet connecting two of the pothole lakes by a tiny little waterway, which is the place we went next. I found it absolutely amazing how the lakes have just enough space in between them to allow a certain passage of water. The roadway between the little lakes was becoming increasingly broken up and deep with wet and dry sand. I was not entirely certain the Subaru would take getting stuck in the sand but it managed to do so for a while anyway. At our last stop, we saw a very long, black snake sunning itself very placidly in the roadway. It scared the heck out of us when it suddenly realized it was not alone and drew itself rather aggressively back from us. We jumped a mile. I swear that it hissed at us; however, that was probably only my imagination. It turned out to be an American Racer.

Finally we went back to the Salt Pond Visitor Centre and walked around the Nauset Marsh Trail There is a salt pond which was originally a freshwater kettle until the ocean broke through and formed a narrow channel to connect the march and the point. In 1605, when Champlain explored this region, the March was then a navigable bay and the local Native people, (the Nausets) lived in bee hive shaped homes on the hillsides).

The walk was supposed to have been about a mile; however, I think the ways we took were a lot further than a mile. It was a great trail and there were periodically trail markers to point out various trees and flowers. There was also a "button bush" trail, which is accessible with guide ropes and Braille markers for those who are blind or visually impaired. The marsh and pond are very rich with marine life which mark the change from fresh to salt water. While we were there, there were a number of men fishing in the pond using "catch and release method" Prior to the area returning to its more natural setting it was an old farmstead and also, believe it or not, a golf course. Once this was abandoned, red cedars (actually, junipers) and aromatic bayberry, quickly filled in the course as their seeds were distributed by gravity, birds and animals. They do not, however, tolerate shade and as the area filled in, other trees such as white and black oaks began to dominate. Eventually maple and beech trees, with seedlings which grow well under their own shade started to grow as well. In other parts of the walk there were: black locust trees, beach plum, and black cherry. These, and the others mentioned, provide important habitat for song birds as well as other creatures of the forest such as: quail, raccoon, rabbits, foxes, squirrels and deer.

The weather in the distance was turning to dark skies in the distance but still sunny where we were and it made for some lovely photos. We practically turned ourselves inside out trying to take photos of a quite large yellowy bird with a reddish under tail I thought was a flycatcher. It turned out to be a Great Crested Flycatcher - the first I had ever seen. As we continued our walk we came to a super overlook into the marsh which showed how very large it really is as it stretches out into the Bay. Just as we were on the point of leaving, we paused to listen to a lovely bird singing. Could neither see the bird nor identify its' call - it might have been a warbler. We had a hard time identifying the tree it was in but were eventually able to find it by finding a marker with the name on it - an Ailanthus altissima - it has an interesting history - .

Reluctantly we headed home; it was full dark by the time we got there.

I had a really lovely time on the Cape and with Cally and family as well. The area is an ever-changing landscape and while deposits of the great glaciers laid the basis of the region, the ocean, wind, plants, animals and humans have all contributed to it. The process is still evolving and I hope to come back to it some day.
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roffatsea on

Cape visit
Marvellous vistas and good photos. Too bad it was a short visit!

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