Published: July 6th 2012June 12th 2012
After Busy Days, Quiet Is Good
Maurice's Campground - Wellfleet MA
The weather was great on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, and the drive from Newport RI to Wellfleet MA was pleasant and uneventful. I had chosen Wellfleet as my base of Outer Cape Cod operations because of its central location. Many of the attractions I wanted to visit were in Provincetown, out at the tip of the Cape Cod peninsula; but some were located closer to the mainland from Wellfleet. If for no other reason than geography, Wellfleet was a good choice; and Maurice's Campground was a good choice for the solitude after a busy day. In spite of the inaccessibility of some of the attractions during the “off season,” one advantage of visiting then is the serenity of the sparsely populated campgrounds at the end of a busy day.
Wednesday morning I headed for Province Lands Visitor Center in Cape Cod National Seashore near Provincetown. The ranger provided me with all the information I requested. My next stop was the Race Point Beach Ranger Station for a hike to Race Point Lighthouse. That was a learning experience! I first tried walking in the sand a good distance from the lapping waves and found it to be totally dried, soft and
Stranded Quahogs, More Universally Known As Clams
Hiking To Race Point Lighthouse - Provincetown MA
very fluid. Tough walking. I then tried walking closer to the wave action and found the sand to be water-logged and very fluid. Tough walking. (This is starting to sound like Goldilocks!) As I was experimenting and trying to find an in between area where there is enough moisture to allow the sand to compress (or to compact just right - LOL), a ranger drove past in a pick-up truck. The rocket scientist in me had this figured out right quick - I’ll follow that papa bear!
I looked for the clues he (apparently) used to determine where the previous high tide had smoothed and wetted the sand. It worked like a champ except that as I traversed the slightly sloping beach for the next mile and a half, I felt like I was wearing only my left shoe. It’s amazing what a one or two degree difference can make in a surface. No problem, I’ll get my hips realigned on the return trip when my right foot is on the uphill side! Early in my trek to Race Point Lighthouse, I found a clam stranded by the receding tide and returned it to the ocean. As soon as
Waiting For Another Meal
Hiking To Race Point Lighthouse - Provincetown MA
I had given it a heave, it came to me that other critters depended on unlucky clams for a food source. Soon I learned I would have acquired a full-time job had I rescued all the stranded clams. Don’t fool with Mother Nature, Larry!
I passed other critters whose identity remains a mystery to this coastline neophyte and saw some interesting driftwood. I passed a few fishermen and saw a herd, school, pack or whatever of critters breach the surface very close to the shore. When I queried a nearby fisherman, I was told that they were seals and that they were pursuing the same striped sea bass he was after. We shared a laugh as I related that I hoped they left a couple for him. Other fishermen and walkers occasionally dotted the beach, and one couple brought lawn chairs to watch and listen to the relaxing, mesmerizing waves lapping against the sandy shore.
Before long, I could see the crown of the lighthouse peeking over a grassy sand dune. I already expected that Race Point Lighthouse would not be as grand as many of the other lighthouses I have seen and knew that the tower and
Peek-A-Boo, I See You
Race Point Lighthouse - Provincetown MA
buildings were not open to the public. Indeed, a resident keeper is on the premises and three rooms in the keeper’s cottage are available for $155-$185 each per night. Since there was a moderate chance of rain in the early afternoon and more threatening clouds were moving in; I wandered around for a spell, took a few pictures and headed back towards the ranger station. Having “the shoe” on my right foot on the return trip actually did result in a sort of equilibrium for my hips – both sides were equally sore! LOL
By the time I returned to my truck, the skies were still mostly cloudy but there had only been a couple of sprinkles of rain. I headed into Provincetown and had the GPS lead me to the Provincetown Museum. My intent was to check out the museum and save the monument for another day, but I learned this is a “two-for-the-price-of-one” attraction. What the heck, let’s go for it! I started with the museum which gave my legs a break before the 252-foot climb. Using the firefighters’ rule of thumb of 1 story=10 feet, that’s about the equivalent of a 25 story building. I hope
Scrimshaw Is So Cool
Provincetown Museum - Provincetown MA
the weather holds out so there’s something to see when I get there!
The Provincetown Museum is very nice. It has been divided into several sections. The MacMillan Room is dedicated to Rear Admiral Donald Baxter MacMillen; Provincetown’s hometown hero, Arctic explorer, scientist and teacher. MacMillen was a member of the 1908-09 Arctic expedition when Robert E. Peary declared that he was the first man to reach the North Pole and was a member of 31 such expeditions between 1908 and 1954 when MacMillen was merely seventy years young. The exhibit includes rare mounted specimens of a white wolf (one of only two mounted specimens in the world), a snowy owl (which, unlike other owls, has adapted to hunt during 24-hour periods of Arctic summer daylight), a polar bear and a musk ox as well as personal artifacts (such as his boots and snowshoes) and gifts he received from the native peoples of the north.
Another section chronicles the conception and the construction of the Pilgrim Monument. I learned that the Mayflower first dropped anchor at Provincetown and several days later, after finding no dependable source of drinking water, moved to Plymouth. A memorial was first conceived in
Artifacts Are Well Displayed
Provincetown Museum - Provincetown MA
1852 but the fund-raising effort failed. After a delay of over 50 years, a successful effort was resurrected in 1892. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone on August 20, 1907, and President William H. Taft attended the dedication ceremony on August 5, 1910. The tallest all-granite structure in the United States reaches 350 feet above sea level. The ascent/descent, interestingly, is composed of 116 steps and sixty ramps!
Other areas of the museum chronicle the early history of legitimate theater in Provincetown and feature the community’s interface with playwright Eugene O’Neill; depict a typical captain’s parlor ashore and a captain’s quarters at sea; display interesting pieces from a “country kitchen;” exhibit ship figureheads and other artifacts of maritime and fishing history; and, of course, the community’s first fire truck as well as a fire bucket and a speaking trumpet. The museum is well-done, interesting and educational.
“Okay, legs. Are you ready?” I was eagerly awaiting the jury’s verdict on the ramps vs. steps concept. I found the ramps are much easier to navigate than the steps. Why not all ramps? Without some steps, the incline necessarily would have been steeper. The mixture the architect chose was great –
Too Much For One Shot
Pilgrim Monument - Provincetown MA
a couple of steps, a short ramp, a couple of steps, a short ramp, etc. The ramps acted as a breather from stair-climbing. The weather held for some great views although a couple of panes of glass could have used some ammonia and elbow grease. Climbing this monument is not a piece of cake, but it is conquerable for most moderately fit people. Pick a clear day if you can – the views should be phenomenal.
The rain that was forecast for Wednesday finally arrived and remained all day Thursday, so I had a good excuse to give my legs the day off. Friday heralded a nice morning at the campground; but the closer I got to Provincetown, the denser the fog became. My agenda for the day was a six-mile hike to two lighthouses on a peninsula that is most easily accessed (by boatless people like me) on foot via a breakwater. Ninety percent of the breakwater was very easy to navigate, and the other ten percent was only moderately difficult. Of course, that’s from my perspective. Remember the joggers on the Cliff Walk in Newport RI? I didn’t see any joggers on the breakwater, but there were
Morning Fog For Starters
Salt Marsh Breakwater - Provincetown MA
lots of people enjoying a walk.
The breakwater serves as a buffer between the salt marshes and the harbor. The fog horn at the Wood End Lighthouse had been sounding since my arrival in Provincetown, but by the time I finished my journey across the breakwater the fog had virtually vanished. I decided to video the lighthouse from a distance to capture the fog horn on the audio track. It was good that I didn’t wait, because I captured the next-to-last sounding of the audio warning. Along the way, I snapped a couple of photos for tourists seeking a memento. I arrived at the deserted lighthouse, made a couple of predatory circles, snapped a few photos and headed down to the beach on the Cape Cod Bay side of the peninsula.
Unlike my walk on the beach on Wednesday, there were no fishermen or walkers. Except for the boats of various types and intents that traversed the bay from time to time, the walk was isolated. Various forms of beached sea life stimulated my curiouity, and remnants of bygone years and contemporary thoughtlessness (litter) that had washed ashore dotted the way. Even the sea gulls didn’t retreat as
Wood End Lighthouse - Provincetown MA
they had on the other beach. It seemed as if they knew that, “Anybody walking along this beach can’t do us harm as he must save his energy for the walk home.” I found an interesting green translucent critter that might have been a jellyfish sans tentacles, and systematically placed pilings that probably had been the footings for a pier in the day. Unlike the isolated Wood End Lighthouse, Long Point Lighthouse had a handful of people in attendance that had arrived by pleasure craft on the Provincetown Harbor side of the peninsula. Again, I was the requested keepsake photographer for one group, but this time I requested an in kind favor.
Wood End Lighthouse and Long Point Lighthouse could pass my “twins test” with flying colors. Any differences are minor and academic. To describe them as unpretentious might be an understatement, but the walk was unique from my perspective and their allure provided a good excuse for me to go exploring. After a few photos, I headed back towards the breakwater along the harbor side of the peninsula. Along the way, I found an elderly couple sitting in lawn chairs, relaxing and enjoying the view of the harbor.
I Can Find No Gross Differences
Long Point Lighthouse - Provincetown MA
They both were born and raised in Provincetown. He was a boat builder and was a slave to his own schedule. They have been taking the short boat ride across the bay to have a picnic lunch “a couple of times a week” since they can’t remember.
As I continued toward the breakwater, a small shallow inlet was filling with the incoming tide. I headed “upstream” and crossed the dry wash before wading was the most practical option. A short distance further I reached the breakwater. Aha, close to the truck! As I crossed the rocky path, I could see and hear the water flowing into the salt marsh. When I reach one of the few challenging portions of the breakwater, the water was flowing through the rocks instead of beneath them. I navigated the passage while getting only one foot wet. In reviewing my maps and information for the blog, I found a note for the breakwater in very small print, “Dike submerged at extremely high tide.” Enough said, lesson learned! Would I make the trek if I knew then what I know now? Yes. Would I recommend it to others? Only to those who are hankerin’ for
On the way back to the RV park, I stopped at the Marconi Wireless Station. What has become Cape Cod National Seashore is home to the site of the first two-way transoceanic wireless communication between America and England. At age sixteen, Gugliemo Marconi successfully transmitted wireless telegraph signals in 1890. He kept experimenting and increasing his range until, on January 18, 1903, he transmitted a 48-word message to England and promptly received a reply. The historic station was abandoned in 1920, and the ocean has reclaimed over half of the land the site occupied. A few remains are still visible, and a model depicts the station as it appeared in 1903. The views of the ocean from the cliffs above are splendid. If you’re driving by and have a few minutes, stop in.
The Highland House Museum and the Highland (Cape Cod) Lighthouse are mere yards apart and, although they are operated separately and have separate modest admission fees, make for a nice two-for-the-stop-of-one attraction on a beautiful Saturday. The museum is housed in a building that was a part of the Highland Resort. Light keeper James Small was also a farmer and owned this property
Hand-Operated Fog Horn
Highland House Museum - North Truro MA
- then known as Highland Farm. Occasionally he allowed people, including writer Henry David Thoreau, to stay at his farm house. By the early 1850s, Small had established one of the first hotels on the Outer Cape. By 1872, the railroad had arrived and the hotel quickly grew into a resort including a now-public golf course that was quite active on the day of my visit.
Much of the old resort became part of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961. In 1970, the Truro Historical Society reached an agreement with the National Park Service to operate a museum in the building. Most of the museum artifacts are what I have come to expect in a museum of this type in this area; however, every local museum I have visited is unique and interesting in its own right and it seems that each holds a new, interesting surprise for me. In Highland House, I found at least three “newbies” including a hand-operated fog horn, a plain old canvass vest converted into a life vest via the attachment of blocks of cork to the outside and a model of an 18th
century salt works operation. New England sea water was
Early Life Vest
Highland House Museum - North Truro MA
a good source of salt through evaporation because it was undiluted by any large river. Originally, the sea water was boiled in large kettles which led to the “evaporation” of Cape Cod’s forests. In 1776, Captain John Sears pioneered the use of solar power to evaporate the water. Say what! 1776? Solar power? The Cape produced over a quarter million bushels of salt in 1832. Before refrigeration, much of the salt was used to "salt down" the cod harvests.
The Highland or Cape Cod Lighthouse became the first lighthouse on Cape Cod when President George Washington authorized its construction in 1797. The original ten-acre site slowly has been reclaimed by the sea and resulted in the 1996 relocation of the tower some 450 feet inland from its original site. Fewer than four acres of the original tract remain. The lighthouse itself is nice, and the docents provided very interesting background information; however, the tower is it. No other outbuildings are open to the public. The views are good but not spectacular. The “Dog the Lighthouse Hunter” in me says you gotta go, but the realist in me knows the world is full of people less enthusiastic about lighthouses than
Only The Tower Is Open To The Public
Highland (Cape Cod) Lighthouse - North Truro MA
I. When coupled with the Highland House Museum, the pair makes for an interesting 2-3 hours, and the lesson about cliff erosion on the kiosk at the original lighthouse location is quite informative.
I drove into Provincetown for a walk around the waterfront. I had driven through town earlier, but the streets are narrow and were speckled with delivery trucks. Driving was a full-time job, and there was not a lot of sightseeing to be done. I actually did want to check out the tourist area, but my main motivation was to find a Massachusetts lapel pin for my cap! One of the piers had a sizeable collection of working boats at berth, and one crew was unloading the lobster catch. I watched the process and asked a couple of questions, but it was apparent they were in a hurry to get their booty to wherever they take them and back into the water. Trust me, I have been tempted but have managed to save my lobster feeding frenzy for Maine.
A shopkeeper on the pier told me of a store in town that might have my lapel pin. I moseyed back toward the main drag and shopped
Working Class Ships
Provincetown MA Waterfront
my way to the store. There I found a display board with only about three or four pins for states east of the Mississippi and almost all of the states west of the River. Dah, go figure! The young lady in attendance was apologetic and said she would tell the owner. Perhaps the owner was unaware – hmmm. I shopped my way back to the truck without success. Provincetown is a neat little tourist trap as those kinds of villages go but, for dining, tell me where the locals eat!
As I was cruising the Internet superhighway, I found the Cape Cod Maritime Festival in Hyannis MA that just happened to be scheduled for Sunday, June 10, 2012. How cooperative! I had two nearby lighthouse open houses in mid-afternoon so, what the heck! I got an early start and found the festival was exactly what I expected for a one-day event - small but interesting. I chatted with a Native American from the Wampanoag Nation near Plymouth MA who was performing a demonstration of how to make a dugout canoe. He told me of an upcoming Wampanoag Indigenous event where he will be a participant. Members of eastern North-American
Cape Cod Maritime Festival - Hyannis MA
nations will be performing traditional song and dance, and there will be dugout canoe races. Now, THAT sounds really interesting! Unfortunately, timing IS everything. Adjacent to the festival grounds was the Cape Cod Maritime Museum. This museum had a limited collection of extremely unique and interesting artifacts along with some very informative placards explaining numerous maritime topics. I will call it interesting and informative – but only if you leave your watch at home and bring your reading glasses.
Now it was time to head to the lighthouse open house extravaganza! The Highland Lighthouse was not the only lighthouse to be impacted by beach erosion, but I need to provide you some background before I begin. In the early days of lighthouse evolution when there were only a few lighthouse stations along the Atlantic coast, the light itself was fixed and could not rotate or flash as we see today. The number of lights at a particular station would indicate, by referencing maps and charts, the location of the station. The Highland (Cape Cod) Lighthouse was a single light, and the Chatham Light Station originally had two towers and, therefore, two lights. When Congress funded the light station at
The Enlightened Sister
Three Sisters Lighthouses - Eastham MA
Nauset in 1836, three 15-foot high masonry towers were built to make Nauset Light Station readily identifiable. The station soon gained the nickname "The Three Sisters" because, from the ships in daytime, they looked like three women in white dresses wearing black hats.
Because erosion was threatening The Three Sisters in 1892, three movable wooden lighthouses were built thirty feet inland from the masonry ones. The original immovable structures became victims of the Atlantic and crashed into the sea. By 1911, revolving lights eliminated the need for three towers at Nauset and two were sold at public auction. When the remaining tower needed major repair work in 1923, the “now-extra” light at Chatham was moved to Nauset, rebuilt and placed back into service; and the remaining "sister" was sold. In the 1970s and 80s the National Park Service reunited and restored The Three Sisters. The first public tour happened in 1989. Today the inoperable Three Sisters stand a couple hundred yards from the spare Chatham "twin" which has now become the fully operational Nauset Lighthouse.
The NPS volunteer related the history of The Three Sisters before we walked to the site, and the volunteer opened two of the
Replaced The Remaining Sister
Nauset Lighthouse - Eastham MA
towers to reveal informational exhibits. Only the middle tower has a lantern room on top. The climb to the lantern room was the shortest lighthouse ascent I have yet made. LOL On the way back to the truck, I stopped at the Nauset Lighthouse to take part in the open house there. Like the Highland Lighthouse, the Nauset Lighthouse has no outbuildings to explore and the views are good but not spectacular. The uniqueness of The Three Sisters make them worthy of a visit and, if you are as lucky as I was, you might as well climb the Nauset Lighthouse at the same time.
The Outer Cape Cod area and Cape Cod National Seashore are great places to visit and there is a ton of fun activities. The beaches are really nice, and both crowds and solitude are available. The park rangers have a variety of interesting activities at hand – moreso in the peak season. I managed to partake of six lighthouses during the week. Although I didn’t explore any of the trails at the national seashore, I was able to find some new and interesting specimens along the beach. I hope to have the opportunity to
What A Story It Might Tell
Cape Cod National Seashore - Provincetown MA
return someday and explore those trails.
There are more photos below