Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Photo Thursday: Wood End Lighthouse in Provincetown

I've been traveling this week, spending time with friends around Cape Cod and in the Boston area in Massachusetts.

While you wait for the full story to be posted, here is a hint of what will come.
This is the Wood End Lighthouse, just outside P-town, as seen from the ferry.

I can't think of a better place to be on a perfect summer day, but I'm sure that Nancie and her friends at the Budget Travelers Sandbox have some ideas of their own. Head on over and check it out.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Summer in Provincetown

Provincetown is at the very end of the Cape. It is an out-of-the-way place that has long attracted a mix of artists, loners, and outsiders of various sorts. That history gives it a racy, artsy reputation that attracts lots of day-trippers looking for something different.

There are interesting galleries and shops, but there is a lot of junk too and there are lots of people. Too many people. Still, I like the architecture and lively streetscape. 

On Commercial Street, the main shopping street, it’s hard to think that this was once a hardworking fishing and whaling center. However, closer to the harbor, that history becomes more evident and  alive.

I’d like to come here in the winter, when almost everyone is gone and grey skies and solitude are the order of the day, when the shops and restaurants are closed and dinner is a meal cooked at home. I think the past would come to life, the cold winter wind bringing with it memories of isolation and difficulty and joy from days long gone. Memories of a way of life long gone.

Today, in the hot sun, it is just a cute tourist town, a brief summer escape.

Next post:  Plymouth Harbor in Black and White
Previous post:  In the Province Land Dunes

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In the Province Lands Dunes

Most of the sandy spit on which Provincetown is located is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore This area, known as the Province Lands, is characterized (today) by long sandy beaches and large, sparsely vegetated sand dunes. (When the Pilgrims landed here the land would have been without dunes and forested.)

There are only two ways to tour the dunes here: A long hike or on one of Art’s Dune Tours.

Being out of shape and having very limited time (the ferry makes one run out here and one run back each day, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for exploring), we chose one of Art’s tours.

I was hoping for a rugged, open vehicle (think Land Rover) or a dune buggy, but the tours are conducted using ordinary four-wheel drive SUVs with the air pressure in the tires reduced. I did get an open window.

We start our tour by heading for the beach, one end of which looks very busy.  
We enter the beach at the Off Road Vehicle (ORV) access. This section is open to recreational vehicles and other self-contained vehicles (campers with toilets). Permits allow these vehicles to park out here for a week at a time, providing what might be the ultimate ocean-side camping experience.
We travel past these beach camp sites until we get to the section of the beach where vehicles are allowed only on a day use basis. 
 It looks a lot quieter down there.

But we aren’t joining them. Instead we head directly up the sandy dune behind the beach via a steep sand track. 
Well, EVENTUALLY we get up there. Our driver doesn’t want to just gun it and rip up the trail (as the vehicle ahead of us did), so he lets a little more air out of the tires. (Lane and I are both having visions of the sand roads in Chobe and the Kalahari.) Even at that, it is a slow grind up the hill.

Just when I think we aren’t going to make it, we chug over the top to find ourselves in a world of dunes. 

 It’s beautiful!

We get out of the vehicle and bury our toes in the hot sand while looking around near the trail. There are a few quaint houses visible in the distance, “dune shacks” that have served as the summer homes of various artists over the years and continue to do so under a special lease program. (Some are still held by decedents of the original owners and I suspect it is these that sport the occasional solar panel.)

While none of the shacks have electricity, they all have access to water. Despite the arid look of the dunes, there is actually good fresh water just a few feet below the surface.

For a few moments I think how nice it would be to spend a few weeks here, but I’m not sure how long I’d actually make it without electricity. I guess I’d need a shack with solar panels so I could at least recharge my camera!
 Our guide also points out the regular spacing of the dune grass, telling us that it was all hand planted in the early 1960s (basically true) and that it is a special type of Israeli grass (maybe true) because there were no native grasses that had adapted to these conditions (not true). Re-vegetating the dunes has been going on for hundreds of years now, ever since the original vegetation was stripped, leaving the topsoil to blow and wash away in the wind and rain, exposing the pure sand below. When barren of plant life, the dunes continually move and rearrange themselves, so massive planting efforts have been undertaken over the years to stabilize them. Today the grass of choice is an American native referred to as ‘Cape’ American  beach grass, but it is still all hand planted.      
 Who knew so much work went into maintaining this beautiful, wild landscape?!  
 But it raises the question: What is natural? In many ways, this is an unnatural landscape, a man-made and maintained place not so different from a Disney theme park or a garden. It looks and feels wild and nature is at work here to a far greater degree than in those fully-managed places, but what makes one place “natural” and another not?

Next post: Summer in Provincetown  
Previous post: The Ferry to Provincetown

Additional Posts on the Cape

The Ferry to P-town

It appears that today will be yet another perfect summer day and on such a day, what can be better than time spent on the water at the shore?

So here we are, at the harbor in Plymouth, Massachusetts, waiting for the ferry to leave the harbor so we can begin our trip to the beaches and dunes of P-town (Provincetown) at the very tip of Cape Cod.

We pass replicas of a Mississippi River paddle-wheeler, the Bounty (as in The Mutiny on the Bounty, although it was also a stand-in for the Edinburgh Trader in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), and the Mayflower. If I squint a little in the shimmering morning light I can almost pretend that I’ve been transported into another century, although I’m not exactly sure which century that would be!
Then we glide past the breakwater and into the bay for nearly two hours of relaxing, watery bliss. . . when I’m not running from one side of the ferry to the other trying to capture it all with my camera.

You know you are nearing Provincetown when the Woods End and Long Point lights come into view.
(I choose to pretend that I don’t see the really tall (252 feet tall), really out-of-place, and totally inappropriate, Pilgrim Monument that towers over this spit of land like a leftover smokestack from a massive, now long gone, industrial facility.)

There are cormorants on hand to welcome us as move into the harbor and up to the dock. 
 We have arrived!

Next post:  In the Province Lands Dunes
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