Sagamore Beach, MA - Events of Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Cape Cod, along with the large islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to the south, have become popular, summer tourist destinations. The many beaches of Cape Cod attract large crowds; and for that reason, we avoided the area until after Labor Day.
When we headed out to Cape Cod on Wednesday, our primary destination was the Cape Cod National Seashore. The National Seashore is located on eastern arm of the cape, and it primarily occupies the part of that arm that faces the Atlantic Ocean. There are only a few areas of the National Seashore along the inner part of the hook facing Cape Cod Bay. U.S. Route 6, which passes fairly close to Scusset Beach Reservation where we were staying, runs the entire length of the cape.
Our first stop heading up Route 6 was at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, which was about 40 miles from where we were staying. The visitor center has a small museum with information about the history of Cape Cod.
The cape was the home of the Wampanoag Indians for centuries, and the museum has a depiction of the remnants of a village that was found on Cape Cod.
As the English settled Cape Cod, fishing became an important activity. The museum also had a display on whaling, which had its start on the island of Nantucket. We'll have more on whaling in an upcoming post.
There is also a very good video and several exhibits on how Cape Cod was formed. Cape Cod is a product of the Ice Age. It was located near the end of the massive ice sheet that covered Canada and parts of North America. The edge of the ice sheet advanced and retreated many times over the centuries. As it retreated, it deposited rocks, sand and gravel. When it advanced, it pushed the debris into an increasingly higher pile. It is theorized the ice sheet had several lobes at its edge, and that the shape of Cape Cod mimics one of the smaller lobes. When the earth warmed and the ice melted, the sea level rose leaving the hook-shaped cape and several islands exposed. Prior to end of the Ice Age, the sea level was about 400 feet lower than it is today. Talk about global warming!
From the visitor center, we continued north along Route 6. Unlike Acadia National Park in Maine, you can't see much of the coast on Cape Cod from your car. There are several roads that branch off from Route 6 and run to the ocean, but there is also some private property along the coast. There is a swimming beach, a lighthouse or both at the end of most of the public roads.
Our next stop was at Nauset Light Beach at the end of one of the roads that branch off from Route 6. When we got to the beach, we found out parking fees are $15 per car in season. That made us even happier we waited until after Labor Day to go to Cape Cod.
The coastline of Cape Cod is much different from the rocky coast of Maine. Here there are 75 to 150-foot high sand cliffs leading down to wide sandy beaches.
When we talked about the Cape Cod Canal in our last post, we mentioned the canal eliminated having to navigate the treacherous shoals around Cape Cod. The existence of those shoals means there are numerous lighthouses on the cape, and Nauset Light is one of them. This 48-foot lighthouse is a cast iron shell lined with brick. It was built in 1877 and was originally one of two lighthouses in Chatham located about 14 or 15 miles to the south. It was moved to Nauset in 1923.
By the 1990s, Nauset Light was less than 50 feet from the edge of the cliff, and the Coast Guard was planning to decommission it. A non-profit group that was formed leased the lighthouse from the Coast Guard and relocated it 336 feet to the west.
That wasn't the first time there were problems with lighthouses being too close to the cliff. When the Nauset Light was moved from Chatham in 1923, it replaced a set of three, wooden lighthouses known as the Three Sisters, and this was the second set of Three Sisters. The original Three Sisters were built in 1837; but by 1890, they were dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. Since it was impossible to move the lighthouses intact back then, three new lighthouses were built.
By 1911, the second set of Three Sisters was too close to the cliff. By that time, they were able to move one of the lighthouses farther inland. The other two were sold and became part of a summer cottage. When the relocated lighthouse was again too close to the edge in 1923, it was also sold to become part of yet another cottage, and the existing lighthouse was relocated from Chatham to take its place.
The second set of Three Sisters that had become parts of cottages were eventually bought by the Park Service, renovated and placed in a field about a quarter mile west of their original locations.
We continued a little farther up Route 6 where we took another cutoff to the east to Cape Cod Light, a.k.a. Highland Light. Cape Cod Light is the oldest and tallest lighthouse on the cape. The original wooden Cape Cod Light was built in 1797 and was authorized by George Washington. It was replaced by a brick tower in 1833. In 1857, that brick lighthouse was deemed unsafe and was replaced by the current one. The existing lighthouse was in danger of falling over the cliff and was moved to its present location 450 feet to the west in 1996.
We have been talking a lot about lighthouses having to be relocated or rebuilt because they ended up too close to the cliff. The coastline of Cape Cod that faces east loses an average of three feet a year. Some of that sand is carried out to sea, but some moves parallel to the shore and is redeposited at the north and south ends of the cape, so while the center of the coast is retreating, the ends are growing.
In the north where the beaches are growing, there are massive sand dunes, much like those we encountered around the Great Lakes.
Provincetown is located at the northern tip of Cape Cod. Contrary to popular belief, the Pilgrims did not make their first landing in the New World at Plymouth Rock. They first landed at the tip of Cape Cod in November, 1620 near what is present-day Provincetown. They didn't move to the mainland until 5 weeks later. Plymouth gets all the credit, however, because it became the permanent settlement.
Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown commemorates the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620. Built from 1907 to 1910, the 252-foot granite tower overlooks Provincetown and Provincetown Harbor. There is a museum there, and you can climb to the top of the monument for a panoramic view of the tip of Cape Cod. We were pretty hot and tired by the time we got to Provincetown, so we passed.
Provincetown, or P-town as it is commonly called, is one of about 15 small towns located on Cape Cod, but P-town is THE tourist destination. Its year-round population of about 3,000 can swell to as many as 60,000 in summer. Of all the harbor resorts we have seen this summer, P-town has the narrowest streets, the narrowest sidewalks and the smallest number of parking places. Therefore, it seemed the most crowded of them all, so we were once again glad we waited until after Labor Day.
Not only are the sidewalks narrow, but in some places they disappear completely, and you have to walk in the street. There is a danger not only from the traffic, but also from bicycles. Bikes are everywhere, and unlike other places where many of the bikes are being ridden by tourists who are just out for a leisurely sightseeing ride, many of the bikes in P-town are apparently ridden by locals or summer residents who have someplace important to go because they really fly. They don't watch for traffic, they don't obey any of the traffic laws, and they certainly don't watch for pedestrians.
The town is crowded, but it's also quaint and picturesque. Provincetown Harbor can be seen down some of the narrow spaces between buildings.
P-town has lots of old buildings, some that date back to the 1600s. Many of the old buildings are inns and bed and breakfasts.
It was a drive of over an hour from Provincetown back to the motor home where we spent the evening relaxing and resting up for the sightseeing we had planned for the following day. We'll tell you about it in our next post.