October 14, 2012

Cape Cod

When Pattie came to visit us, one of her biggest wishes was to visit the National Seashore on Cape Cod. The National Seashore is a coastal area that is designated by the federal government as being of natural or recreational significance as a preserved area. In other words, it’s a long stretch of pristine beach where you can walk for miles and never see any commercial or residential developments. There are currently ten protected areas known as National Seashores in the US. The Cape Cod National Seashore was established by JFK in 1961 and it encompasses 43,500 acres of land and has nearly 40 miles of beach.

Cape Cod sign at the entrance to the island
Welcome to Cape Cod!
Cape Cod itself is also quite the tourist destination. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, beachgoers and lucky summer home owners flock to the island to lay out on the beaches, shop the quaint town Main Streets, and enjoy all kinds of water sports. The Cape is shaped like a flexed arm and is defined by the towns along the Cape Cod Canal all the way to the tip of the island to Provincetown. There is one main highway that takes you from mainland all the way to Provincetown, Route 6, but this is literally a typical highway and it doesn't offer much views. Just north of it, every once in a while Route 6A breaks off and offers a more laid back drive along the beach following town streets. Just south of Route 6 is highway 28. This highway is really a casual two lane road that also winds through town streets and comes near the ocean. Following highway 28 allows for great access to the numerous lighthouses on the Cape’s shore and also access to some of the top beaches. The National Seashore beaches start at the town of Eastham, just above the elbow crease (if you imagine the flexed arm), and go all the way to the curled fingers of Provincetown.

A map of Cape Cod
A map of Cape Cod
Because our campground was located so close to the Cape, we had the opportunity to drive in not just once, but several times. We decided to split the Cape into two parts to make it easier for us to visit. One day we visited the first half (or the shoulder to the elbow portion, if you will) and then another day we saw the rest. Following our half day of touring Plymouth andSagamore Beach, we decided to do another laid back half day on the Cape the next day. We drove to the town of Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod. Sandwich was settled in 1637 and was named for the seaport of Sandwich, England. There is a historic corn mill just off Main Street there and during the summers visitors can watch the wooden mechanism grind corn and then buy freshly ground cornmeal to take home. We spent the morning walking around the little antique shops and upscale grocery boutiques, and then ate an amazing lunch at Beth’s Special Teas, Bakery and CafĂ©. After lunch we drove on Route 6A to Barnstable, where Pattie had vacationed some years ago, and then crossed the island and headed back to town on Route 28.

Sandwich, Massachusetts Town Hall
Sandwich Town Hall 
The Sandwich, Massachusetts Dexter Grist Mill
The Sandwich Dexter Grist Mill 
Lunch on the patio at Beth's Specialty Teas in Sandwich, MA
Lunch at Beth's 
A decadent chicken pot pie at Beth's Specialty Teas in Sandwich, MA
Skyler's decadent chicken pot pie at Beth's in Sandwich
We returned to Cape Cod on Sunday morning. That morning we woke up bright and early, with hopes of spending a full day exploring the National Seashore and doing some shopping in Provincetown. We bypassed the parts of the Cape that we’d visited before by staying on Route 6 until we got to Eastham, the Gateway to the National Seashore. There we picked up a collection of maps and brochures at the visitor’s center. Just passed the visitor center we found the oldest windmill on Cape Cod. The Eastham windmill was built in Plymouth in 1680, moved to the Cape to the town of Truro in 1770, and then finally moved to Eastham in 1793. There are two NS beaches in Eastham, the Coast Guard Beach and the Nauset Light Beach, and both are just minutes from Route 6 on Ocean View Drive.

Historic windmill in Eastham, MA
The historic windmill in Eastham
We went to Coast Guard Beach first and it was gorgeous. It’s no wonder this beach is regularly named one of the Conde Nast Traveler’s Top Beaches in the US! There is a scenic historic coast guard station overlooking the beach. From there you can see salt marshes stretching to meet the Atlantic Ocean, large fields of green beach grass and miles of clean sand. The day we visited it was sunny but quite chilly, with temperatures hovering near the low 50s. Nevertheless, there were surfers clad in full body wetsuits surfing the waves on the beach below. I guess they also didn’t mind the recent shark sightings on this beach?

The Coast Guard station on Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, MA
The Coast Guard station on Coast Guard Beach 
Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, MA
Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, MA 
Surfers on Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, MA
Surfers on Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, MA
The Nauset Light Beach is just down the road from Coast Guard Beach, so we decided to do our picnic lunch there. We found a large log to lean our back on, laid a blanket on the sand and spread out our goods. It was very enjoyable, with the views of the ocean right in front of us and the sun rays shining down.

Picnic on the beach on Nauset Light Beach in Eastham, MA
Picnic on the beach
While eating, I suddenly realized that the bag of chips that Sky had randomly selected at the grocery store was of Cape Cod brand. Interesting, I thought to myself, we’re eating Cape Cod chips on Cape Cod! But here is the coolest part: the chip company selected the Nauset Light to be their main image on the chip packaging, so here we were, sitting near the Nauset Light on Nauset Light Beach, eating Cape Cod chips with the same light on them! After lunch I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a picture, so here I am:

Cape Cod chips at the Nauset Light in Eastham, MA
My Cape Cod chips and I at the Nauset Light
We continued our drive up the island and were soon stuck in back to back traffic near the town of Wellfleet. Even though we were visiting the Cape in its off season, we had picked one of the worst days to visit because the Wellfleet Oysterfest was going on that weekend. Because we had no plans of attending the festival, we had to wait in traffic with 15,000 other folks who were interested in going, only to bypass the seaside fishing village. What should have only taken us 20 minutes to drive took us well over an hour, but finally we arrived at the tip of the Cape, the town of Provincetown.

Provincetown, also known as P-Town to the locals, is known for its beaches, harbor, and Commercial Street (its main shopping district). One of the first things we saw when driving up to the town was the Pilgrim Monument, a 252 feet tall tower built to commemorate the first landfall of the Pilgrims. This monument is the tallest all-granite structures in the United States now, making it quite more memorable than the puny Plymouth Rock. :o) Provincetown’s year round population is only 2,950 people while during the summer the population swells to 60k! We spent the rest of the day strolling on Commercial Street and walking on the harbor. 

Pilgrim monument in Provincetown, MA
Pilgrim Monument
A decorative statue on a pier in Provincetown, MA
On a pier in Provincetown 
Provincetown, MA harbor
The Provincetown harbor
We rounded out the day by driving the remaining portion of the National Seashore, where we caught the tail end of a gorgeous sunset.

To see more pictures of Cape Cod, click here.

Happy National Seashore Exploring,


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