When I came to Cape Cod years ago when I lived in Massachusetts, we used to roll in the dunes and slide down them, particularly in and around Truro, which was known for its massive sandy peaks. Today, they are protected so while you can’t roll around in them the way you used to, you can experience them first hand and marvel in their beauty by taking a Dunes Tour.
Many people who know me know that I’m not a fan of tours in general however there are some structured tours I’ve taken over the years which have been led by guides so knowledgeable and interesting, that they’ve made my trip. Arts Dunes Tours in Provincetown is one of those experiences.
Imagine being able to drive through these stunningly beautiful rolling dunes in a 4 wheel truck. Views of desolation stretch for miles, where you see nothing but wispy beach grass, dark green pine trees, and red beach plums nestled in hollows. In the midst of it all, the sandy white dunes are so expansive that you feel as if you’re caught up in a quiet sand storm that has been put on pause.
The blue skies swallow you up from above and through it all, you’re taken on a peaceful and relaxing while invigorating drive past some of the areas where famous writers have been inspired, such as Eugene O’Neill and Harry Kemp.
We passed the remains of the Peaked Hill Life Saving Station and view after view of long stretches of nothingness, that same kind of nothingness you feel when you’re in a wide open desert. The views are breathtaking!
The land is part of National Seashore protected lands and those who are allowed in (either with a permit or pass, which some locals get), or tour organizers, take great pride in following specified guidelines to ensure that the dunes are protected. Some of Cape Town’s beaches now fall under the National Seashore protection, including the great Outer Beach, which Thoreau wrote about in the 1800’s.
There are forty miles of pristine sandy beach, marshes, ponds, and uplands support diverse species. Coming towards you on all sides are batches of tall wispy grass, lighthouses, cultural landscapes, and wild cranberry bogs, all of which remind you that you’re in the heart of Cape Cod and all the things that make Cape beaches so memorable.
Ahhh yes baby….this should give you an idea of what I thought about the experience. Let’s just say I was in absolute bliss!!
Interesting Background on the Dune Shacks:
Here’s some background on the dunes and the 19 rustic “dune shacks” within the ‘dune-scape’ of the area. These dune shacks, which were originally erected by the Life Saving Service as shelters for seamen were built during the late 19th century along a three-mile stretch of mountainous dunes and alternating valleys of scrub pine from Race Point to High Head in Truro.
These shacks have no electricity, no running water, no toilets or no other modern conveniences whatsoever and were used years later as summer hideaways and artistic retreats for painters, poets, writers, socialites and vagabonds who wanted or needed a place to get away from it all.
In the 1930s and 1940s, artists from Provincetown, enamored with the promise of quiet summers by the beach, reclaimed these shacks for their own use. For example, O’Neill authored several of his best works here including Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape in the early 1920’s. His presence among the dunes along with fellow artists, such as Harry Kemp, self-titled ‘poet of the dunes,’ who wrote exhaustively of this habitat’s ethereal beauty, and Hazel Hawthorne-Werner, who authored The Salt House (1929), an account of her adventures in the dunes, earned the shacks a place in the National Register of Historic Places.
There are a number of shacks managed by nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to serve the traditional uses of the shacks by providing artistic and community residencies. The dune district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
Peaked Hill Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and management of dune shacks located within the Cape Cod National Seashore. Four of the shacks are available to artists and writers who receive residencies through a lottery system. Some notable tenants include Jack Kerouac, e e Cummings, Eugene O’Neill, Norman Mailer and Jackson Pollack.
In addition to the memorable views, the desolate beach landscape and the breathtaking dunes themselves, the other thing that made our tour so special was the passion that Rob Costa has about the area and its history. Son of Art Costa, hence the company’s name, this family run business has been running dune tours since 1946. He’s a wealth of knowledge having grown up in the area so we were very fortunate to have him lead the tour.
Today Rob Costa and his partner Rob Papa continue to run the dunes tours, which leave from the center of Provincetown, a must visit in the summer and fall. We loved Rob’s energy, the quality of the tour and the mesmerizing dunes of which my Canon 7D and I had the most joyous time as you can see.
Also read our write up on Provincetown, where we post a host of fabulous photos of the center of town and its main beach.
Here are links to all of our posts on Massachusetts, Boston and Cape Cod. Also see my write ups on Nantucket, the North Shore which includes Salem, Gloucester, and Rockport. All photo credits Renee Blodgett.
Arts Dunes Tour
4 Standish Street
Provincetown, MA 02657
Note: The Massachusetts and Cape Cod Tourism Board hosted and helped with some of our activities but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.