Almost three-quarters of Provincetown is preserved in its wilderness state as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park. The Park provides visitors access to magnificent ocean beaches, nature bike trails and exhibits.
A breakwater was constructed in 1911 to protect the town's harbor from the dune's shifting sands. The unintended consequences of this project were a bonus that allows you to follow its path across the harbor to the outermost finger of the jutting Cape and the sentry of Wood End Lighthouse. Along the way, if the tide has taken its ritual leave, the harbor floor can be explored, which holds abandoned rowboats, horseshoe crabs, seaweed and other ocean oddities. Upon reaching the other side, amblers can continue on to Long Point lighthouse at land’s end or cross over to the quiet beaches that lie on the Cape Cod Bay side of the spit.
Depending on speed, a walk across the breakwater can take anywhere between one to two hours. The rocks are not evenly laid so only those with sure footing should plan on the amble. It is also important to check the tide’s schedule before crossing the breakwater because from time to time the harbor’s water rises above the rock passage. We arrive as the high tide mark has passed and the waters are receding.
Yes, this was an intimidating walk. You literally are out in the middle of a bay walking on huge boulders that are irregularly spaced and in at least four instances require a "scramble" near the waterline. The "Danger Sinkhole" sign did not help inspire confidence either!
Whether you arrive by land, sea or sky, the Pilgrim Monument is the first thing you see when you approach Provincetown. Standing at 252 feet, the Monument commemorates the history of the Mayflower Pilgrims. It’s the tallest all-granite structure in the United States. You can climb to the top on a series of stairs and ramps and will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Provincetown and beyond. The view of the Monument from the breakwater walk was spectacular.
With the Lighthouse theme still in play, we spied the Wood End Lighthouse. Near the very tip of Cape Cod. Wood End Lighthouse is now an unmanned light that sounds a horn to alert for fog. The lighthouse was built in 1872 and the adjacent oil house was built in 1896. This remote light can only be accessed by this long hike that we had started.
Marking the entrance to Provincetown Harbor, Long Point Lighthouse is an unmanned light. It is 38 feet tall and shines a green light. A fog sensor activates the fog horn. The lighthouse was built in 1875 and the adjacent oil house was built in 1904. This remote light can only be accessed by foot or boat. It is now illuminated via solar panels.
We climbed the first set of dunes to take in the view of the Boston skyline in the far distant horizon. It was hazy, but discernible. We were told that this viewpoint was where the whale watching vessels journeyed and that we might see whales from land. Then it started to rain. The thought of returning across now wet and slippery rocks outweighed our desire to reveal in the glory of the journey and explore the area more. We hurried back across the Breakwater Walk to the car arriving... a bit moist.
Thanks to the rain, our plans to explore the Highland Lighthouse (aka - The Cape Cod Lighthouse) and walk the trails at Beech Forrest and look for birds quickly vanished. We did visit the Racepoint area and have posted a picture from that location - on the other side of the tip of the Cape - looking back at Provincetown. The Pilgrim Monument stands tall and proud. We decided to steer a course for Wellfleet, Ma – home of the delicious Wellfleet Oyster!
We arrived in the sleepy town of Wellfleet just about lunchtime. One of the first rules of dining while traveling that I learned was to look for the restaurant with the most cars parked in the lot. The Bookstore Restaurant seemed to be the ticket. We circled the place twice and confirmed that in fact, there was a bookstore in the back. Our order... you guessed it, freshly shucked Wellfleet Oysters and Clam Chowder. We threw in a plate of Steamed Littleneck clams and their fried seafood sampler which was an assortment of wholebelly clams, scallops and shrimp. We learned later that the oysters they serve come out of the oyster beds that they own which are literally across the street from the restaurant.
The meal was heaven on earth! The Wellfleet Oyster possessed a pleasingly shocking salty liquor that complimented the sweet, crisp meat. It has plump meats with a mild, sweet flavor, high brininess and a crisp, clean finish. The clam chowder – the best I have had so far. A creamy concoction with succulent tender clams and potatoes just the right size and tooth. It tasted wonderful! The steamed clams were luscious and served in an amazing broth and the fried platter was lightly battered and lightly fried – perfect.
The Cape Cod landscape is one of many estuaries and salt marshes. The largest individual marsh is the Great Salt Marsh to the west of the town of Barnstable. With deep channels running through it, this is a popular area to explore by kayak. We have been told by several folks we have met along our journey that the viewscape of the Great Salt Marsh near Fort Hill should not be missed. We are not disappointed. The views were fantastic and Casey discovered and fell in love with the Beach Rose.
Near the Great Marsh, Captain Penniman built his French Second Empire style house in 1868. The house is a National Historic Site owned and interpreted by the National Park Service as part of Cape Cod National Seashore. The house holds the Penniman family's written records and artifact collections, which provide glimpses of the places and people that the family visited on their whaling voyages.
We leave the Great Salt Marsh and take Route 6A towards our destination for the day – Sandwich, MA. From its apparent beginning as a Native American trail, Route 6A evolved into a principal east-west cart path for early Cape Cod farmers and other settlers. In the late 17th century it became an extension of the Plymouth Colony’s “King’s Highway.” With the rise of 18th century maritime activities on Cape Cod, sea captain homes, taverns and other commercial activities sprouted along the route, giving occasion to Boston-Provincetown stagecoaches to stop. In the next century, the demise of maritime industries prompted a focus on cranberry production in the district. Be sure to check out the pictures we took of a cranberry bog harvest in the next posting!
The Kings Highway winds its way through some of the oldest villages in America, including Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans. Many of the homes and churches along this tree-shaded road are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a very slow-paced, beautiful and pleasant drive.
We arrive at our Bed and Breakfast destination – The 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center and check into our room. Built in 1750, this inn is one of the oldest historic homes operating as a bed and breakfast on the Cape. Listed on the National Registry of Historical Places, the Inn stands in Town Hall Square in the heart of Sandwich, the Cape's oldest and most quaint village.
We quickly unpack and then head out to visit the Cape Cod Canal. Unfortunately, it is late in the day and the Visitor’s Center is already closed. The Cape Cod Canal is an artificial waterway traversing the narrow neck of land that joins Cape Cod to mainland Massachusetts. Part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the canal is approximately 7 miles long. Multiple canal access points along both sides of the Canal have been developed into recreation areas equipped with restrooms, picnic areas and parking lots. Service roads which parallel both sides of the Canal are available for bicycling, jogging and walking. Ship watching is always an option!
We then head over to the Sandwich Boardwalk. The Sandwich Boardwalk is ranked number 8 of the National Geographic’s top 10 boardwalks. Destroyed in 1991 by Hurricane Bob, the 1,350-foot boardwalk was rebuilt with support from locals, whose names and messages are inscribed on the planks leading to a broad sandy beach on Cape Cod Bay. But this is no commercial strip. Visitors are treated to postcard-worthy views of dunes, marshes, and a creek.
Town Neck Beach is adjacent to the boardwalk. Rocky and dune-backed, Town Neck Beach is a beautiful spot to watch boats travel in and out of the Cape Cod Canal. There's plenty of room for everyone and calm waters make this a great spot for swimming or kayaking.
We arrive at low tide and take a few pictures. Please check out the next entry of our travel blog and compare the views of the boardwalk and beach at high tide. You will be amazed.
For dinner, we are not really that hungry. We decide that perhaps a sandwich is in order. Imagine my frustration trying to Google Search the location Sandwich, MA looking for a good sandwich restaurant. We finally gave up and ducked into an Irish pub near the grocery store we visited. I had a sandwich. For the Best sandwich in Sandwich, hang in there for our next blog posting! Also, as if you needed a final cliff hanger... There is one more Lighthouse and one more Oyster!
In 1620, the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower and made their first landing in the New World in Provincetown Harbor. The Pilgrims stayed in Provincetown for five weeks, where they created and signed the Mayflower Compact. They then continued on to their ultimate destination of Plymouth, Massachusetts.