When I visited Cape Cod in Massachusetts, I took one of the most famous tours in there – relaxing and panoramic Art’s dune tour. I did not know what to expect of it in the beginning, but it turned out to be a lot of fun and a very interesting experience. Our guide Dave took us around the dunes in a jeep for an hour and explained a lot about the history of the place and dunes itself.
HOW IT ALL STARTED …
Cape Cod is a giant sandbar. In the end of ice age it was all underwater but during the last 10,000 yeras the sandbar was formed from the South to the North due to the wind. Nowadays it looks like a huge elbow which reminded me of Caleta Valdes that was formed the same way as a part of Peninsula Valdes in Argentina.
When in 1700′s the Portuguese fishermen settled down in Provincetown (at the left side of the fist of the elbow arm), they needed wood to build their houses. So the forest area that used to cover Cape Cod at that time was eliminated, top soil blew away and thw wind piled sand into dunes.
In 1800′s other villages were founded in Cape Cod but almost all of them in the inner side of the bay so the eastern Atlantic part was left unsettled because of strong winds and storms coming from the Atlantic Ocean very often. Due to this, the dunes stayed there which led to creating Cape Cod National Park Seashore in 1961 in the Eastern part of Cape Cod. Now it forms 75% of the whole Provincetown area while the rest 25% of Provincetown town is densily built up.
First, all the vehicles where allowed to enter Seashore which caused erosion. In 1980′s they changed the rules and nowadays only 12 vehicles have the special permit to access to the National Park, including those of Art’s Dune Tours that took me there. Still hiking and walking the dunes is possible and not prohibited.
starting the dune tour
Less cars helped Seashore a lot, as grass, rose hips, trees (usually pines as they do not need any rich soil) and some other plants (such as roses) grow there now and avoid the erosion.
a perfect example of erosion
rose hips in the dunes
dune forest – shelter for dune nocturnal animals
In 1978 the oak from the photo was blown in a storm but it is still growing now and forms a beautiful arch
old oak forming an arch in the sand dunes
Just the lowest parts of the dunes have vegetation.There is a logical explanation behind it – the plants can use the undersurface fresh water which in the low spots of the dunes is just 5 feet (1,52 m) below the sand. At some swampy places there we can even see springs coming out of the surface. Under the surface there is a layer of 50 feet of salt water (15,24 m) and on top of it another 70 feet of fresh water (21,33 m) just below the sand from where the plants get it. There are a lot of cranberries growing in the dunes. They were green when I visited but around November you can go pick them up (an ounce per person per day is allowed in the national park).
Many nocturnal animals live in the dunes, including foxes, racoons, turkeys, deer, snakes and coyotes. We saw a lot of animal tracks while touring the dunes (for example toad and coyote). While you hardly ever see any animals in the dunes during the day, the following morning you know what they did and where. Like Dave said … there is always a story written in the sand
toad tracks in the dunes
coyote tracks we saw in the dunes from the previous night
In the early 1900s there were a couple of dune shacks built in the dunes mostly by coast guardsmen. There is no water and no electricity in the shacks, just a wood stove to keep the shack warm in winter and a propaine cooking stove. All in just one room and an outside old house bathroom. Nowadays, there are just 19 shacks left and they belong to the National Park or to the non-profit organization as technically after all the shack owners died, they had to give the shacks to the National Park Seashore as they didn’t own the properties where they built the shacks before (as now the land belong to the national park).
Since 1900s dune shacks, situated close to the artist community of Provincetown, also became a place of famous writers and artists. Writers such as Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill or Norman Mailer used to live in the shacks for a while. It was extremely interesting for me as a literature graduate to hear about all this and even take a photo of me outside the dune shack where Tennessee Williams wrote a part of Streetcar named Desire. We had a bit of a time to take photos on top of a tall dune and also see Atlantic Ocean shoreline
on top of the tall dune looking down
our Art’s dune tour jeeps with Dave
view of the dune shack where Tennessee Williams used to live
me and the dune shack where Tennessee Williams wrote Streetcar Named Desire
Nowadays, there is just 1 permanent resident of the shacks (who uses solar panels to get at least some power). We could see how he gets water. All the other shacks can be rented or you can even win a week to spend there.
how they get water to dune shacks
This trip was a press trip. All the thoughts in this article are my own. I truly enjoyed the dune tour around the Cape Cod National Park Seashore. To find out more details about this dune tour or any other, please visit Art’s Dune Tours website and if you book it online, you will save $2 Or you can call them to 508 487 1950 or 800 894 1951. All the tours leave from the corner of Standish and Commercial streets in Provincetown, Cape Cod. For more information about Cape Cod tourism, please visit Cape Cod Chamber website.