As the map below shows, Cape Cod is a thin arm of land flexed from the southeast corner of Massachusetts. I’m staying at Eastham, not shown on this map but above the elbow between Orleans and Wellfleet. The Pilgrims apparently first landed at Provincetown, on the tip, on November 11, 1620, but established their first colony—the first English settlement in North America—further south at Plymouth shortly thereafter.
Click pictures to enlarge, particularly the panorama below
This thin peninsula, only a few miles wide, marks the farthest extent of glaciation in the area, and contains many glacial landforms and lakes dug out by glaciers. Here’s a satellite view:
In summer it’s crowded with tourists, but they have mostly gone now, and businesses are closing, leaving much of the island to its long-term residents. Many people have summer or “retreat” homes here, including Steve Pinker. And a lot of the peninsula, particularly on the east side, is public National Seashore. People don’t usually mind you walking on the private beaches, either, so you can almost circumambulate the peninsula on the beach.
Here’s a view of a typical beachside home. You’re never far from bay or sea on Cape Cod
The dune vegetation is lovely and diverse:
A curious tubular seaweed I found at low tide:
A panorama of the shore (click to enlarge):
And ripples in the sand at low tide:
On the road, we saw two people standing by the roadside and noticed that they were looking at a giant turtle. It turned out to be a big snapping turtle that they were protecting so that it didn’t go back into the highway and get hit by a car.
We got out, too, and stood by it until the turtle was clearly out of the roadway and heading into the woods.
Its head, which is cute, belying the fact that these guys can do serious damage with a bite, even taking off your finger
We headed up to Provincetown at the tip, which, I was told, was the gay mecca of the Northeast. (I now realize why this is where Andrew Sullivan goes to relax in summer.) I decided that I would walk around and, pretending I didn’t know of the town’s reputation, see how long it would take me to catch on. First, some views of the town.
The tower is the Pilgrim Monument, built between 1907 and 1910, with another monument below. They both commemorate “the first landfall of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the signing of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor.”
The colorful streets of Provincetown. It looked like a resort town to me, but for a while I couldn’t see signs that it was a gay mecca.
Lots of colorful shops, art stores, restaurants, marijuana dispensaries, and some psychics and crystal shops.
We had lunch at the Lobster Pot, a seafood joint that’s been here since 1979 and is favored by both locals and tourists.
A bloody Mary: half drink, half salad:
My friend Brit’s lunch: Cioppino, a seafood stew/soup, and very substantial
I wanted New England clam chowder, which was served in a bread bowl. Excellent. I much favor the New England style rather than the “Manhattan” style of chowder, which includes tomatoes.
Many people went for the lobster roll, a New England favorite. It’s basically lobster meat (and a bit of mayo or butter) heaped into a hot-dog-style bun. This one has a lot of lobster!
There were indeed signs that Provincetown attracts gays (both gay men and lesbians, I’m told). Here’s one: an erotic toy shop (to be sure, these don’t cater solely to gays):
This is a more definitive sign. I was puzzled at the “tea dance” affair, but was told that this place, The Boatslip, is a popular gay hangout with dances and a swimming pool. It’s right on the bay.
The Three Sisters Lighthouses are part of the National Seashore. Built in the early 19th century, they are no longer functional, but were a trio of non-moving lights that told seamen that they were about halfway up the northern part of Cape Cod. They were moved because of erosion, and were also rendered obsolete by the development of moving lights with Fresnel lenses that were a more obvious sign of shore: Here are two of the three, the one in the foreground remaining intact.
This is the famous Nauset Lighthouse nearby, which still functions. It was built in 1877 and moved in 1923 and 1996 because of coastal erosion that endangered the structure. Erosion is a real problem here, and it really cannot be stopped.
The lighthouse features on a local favorite: bags of Cape Cod potato chips.
After driving home, it was time for a nosh.. And that means oysters, best (and most cheaply) procured at Caroline’s Bar and Restaurant in Eastham. At happy hour, also known as “buck a shuck” ($1 per each shucked oyster), you can eat your fill at reasonable prices: about a third of the normal price. There are also cocktail shrimp.
The Happy Hour menu.
A plate of gustatory bliss: a dozen Wellfleet oysters and four huge cocktail shrimp These oysters were among the best I’ve ever had; indeed, they may BE the best I’ve ever had. Sadly, the place is closing down in a week. Lack of tourism and of help means that many places close during fall, winter, and early spring
The end of the day: the sun sinks over the mainland, viewed from the west coast of Cape Cod.