As the leaves turn and fall to the ground, travel to Cape Cod becomes easy, with no traffic or crowds to delay the journey. Exploration of tiny towns is casual on a fall Sunday, as cool temperatures keep the beach crowds away and open up opportunity for nature observers to soak in the beauty of this giant sand bar.
Long on the list of things to do, we took a ride to Race Point beach, part of the Cape Cod National Sea Shore. Leaving early, the ride was pleasant, and we broke it up with some obligatory stops along the way: Christmas Tree Shops at the Sagamore Bridge, and a nice lunch at Café Chew in Sandwich, whose variety of interesting sandwiches and Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins alone were worth the ride.
Our ultimate destination was the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown. Though the visitor center itself is closed, restrooms are open daily and were welcomed. The view of scrub pine and sand out over the Provincetown airport evoked memories of the TV series “Wings,” a fictional airport set on Nantucket but featuring many Cape Cod references.
After wandering around the trails a bit and finding a letterbox set by our Tewksbury children’s librarian Miss Kat, we continued down the road to Race Point Beach. Race Point is so named because of the “race” or strong rip currents that make navigating around Cape Cod challenging for ships, according to NewEnglandLighthouses.net.
A lighthouse has stood at Race Point since 1816, and was one of the first revolving beacons of the era. According to lighthouse records, Race Point is one of the windiest places on the coast. The National Park Service states that over 3,000 shipwrecks have occurred on or around the Cape in the last 300 years of recorded history.
That said, we were fortunate to have a very calm day for our visit. As we looked out into the open ocean, we thought we saw a plume of water. And there it was again! Completely unexpected, we observed whales spouting right off the beach. We didn’t even need binoculars, though we will bring them next time.
Humpback and right whales both feed off the coast, but we were too far away to distinguish which type as they breached. And, to our amazement, just off shore, heads bobbed out of the water to check us out.
Harbor seals, as if to greet us, swam along the coastline and stopped to look at us. These encounters, combined with the multitude of birds diving to catch their own lunch, was beyond incredible. Common species at Race Point include Cormorants, Gulls, Eiders, and Gannets, who dive bomb from the sky for their meals.
The beach was deserted in the early afternoon, save for just a few people who, like us, were just taken with the views. In retrospect, we should have brought our lunch to the beach and picnicked with the sea creatures. It was quite a show!
It would also have worked well to bring bikes to explore the Province Lands bike trail, a five mile loop that weaves in and out of dunes. We did swing by the Pilgrim monument in Provincetown, a memorial to the first landing spot of the Pilgrims. A museum is part of the park, and there is another memorial at Pilgrim’s First Landing park, where you can walk out on the Breakwater.
It is actually a one mile boulder jetty by the Army Corps of Engineers, built in 1910, and you can walk all the way to the Wood End Lighthouse, but check the tides first.
The next time you have a free day and the weather forecast is cool but calm, head to the tip of the Cape and see what surprises await you. And bring your binoculars!