When American writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau visited Cape Cod back in the 1800s, he was completely captivated by its rugged beauty and abundant wildlife. He wrote, “A man may stand there and put all America behind him."
Today, millions of people visit the hook-shaped peninsula that extends 97 kilometers into the Atlantic Ocean from the coast of Massachusetts.
They come to enjoy the pristine beaches, sand dunes, marshes, ponds, and the many plant and animals species that live in and out of the water.
“The Great Outer Beach” that so mesmerized Thoreau and other writers is now part of the National Park Service's Cape Cod National Seashore. Located on the outer portion of the Cape, the 180-square-kilometer area encompasses a rich mosaic of marine, estuarine, fresh water and terrestrial ecosystems.
It's no wonder national parks traveler Mikah Meyer decided to spend some time there recently.
A world apart
Mikah, who's on a mission to visit all of the more than 400 sites within the U.S. National Park Service, visited the area after his recent trip to the historic city of Boston, noting that the contrast couldn’t be starker.
“I completely understand now why it's kind of ‘Boston's retreat.’ Living on the east coast in D.C. we have Rehoboth Beach, in New York they have Fire Island National Seashore and so Cape Cod National Seashore is like Boston's equivalent 'escape of urbanity' … so while it’s just a one-hour ferry ride away, you feel like you're in a completely different zone.”
Mikah and his travel companion Andy Waldron drove through the charming seaside towns, soaking up the diverse scenery around them.
“Because we had a vehicle, we were able to drive along the whole cape,” he said. “You get to drive along this thin sandbar, with beaches, marshes, and lakes that are in this sandbar. You’ve got grass growing under the sand, which is incredible that it still exists because it's basically just sand.”
The young men also had a chance to park their van and walk on the sandy trails that cover the dunes on the almost 65-kilometer stretch of beach. It was an exhilarating experience for them both.
A watery world
In addition to diverse plant species, Cape Cod is also home to more than 450 species of amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals, and a myriad of invertebrates depend on the diversity of upland, wetland, and coastal ecosystems found at Cape Cod National Seashore.
Whales can often be spotted spouting off in the far distance, while grey and harbor seals swim and feed in the ocean closer in. Their growing population in Cape Cod’s waters has been attracting another species, great white sharks, which have been cruising off-shore in increasing numbers.
Mikah and Andy were walking on a trail high in the dunes when they spotted a few dark shapes in the ocean below. They thought it was logs floating in the water but then realized it was some kind of sea creature.
“So we ran down the dunes and we got really close and it was two to three different seals that were just popping their heads up,” Mikah recalled. “We saw like five or six different ones throughout the course of just 30 minutes standing there.”
“We had heard from The Visitor Center that there might be whales, but the seals were just completely unexpected and were the surprise that came out of nowhere,” Mikah added. “So I think that made it extra special.”
A quiet refuge
Mikah said he could see why this picturesque peninsula attracts locals as well as out-of-towners.
“Just the seals and the whales that we saw spouting right off the coast, and then the amazing colors of the grass and the marshlands and the trees changing colors…it was a totally different world, having just been in Boston where we were freaking out every moment about where we were driving in traffic and noise -- it was a complete juxtaposition.”
Mikah and Andy spent their last evening on Cape Cod watching a glorious sun setting over the water.
No noise or traffic there. Just a quiet refuge where they enjoyed a few peaceful moments before continuing on their epic journey.
To learn more about his Cape Cod experience and the many other sites he visited during his trip to Massachusetts, Mikah invites readers to visit his website.