Three generations, ten springs of exploring Cape Cod

For ten years now, I’ve made a spring pilgrimage to Cape Cod with my son and mother, for a few nights over the April spring vacation week or on a weekend in May. We take advantage of off-season rates at the Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, and participate in certain must-repeat rituals, like shopping at the Brewster Bookstore, eating ice cream outdoors at JT’s Seafood Restaurant, and playing Marco Polo in Ocean Edge indoor pool, where my mother is probably the oldest guest to ever play that game.

But each time we visit, I try to find something new and different that fulfills this simple criteria: the activity or destination must be something that all three of can do and enjoy together. Not a kid thing, like jumping on trampolines (although we do that too). Not an adult thing, like visiting an art museum. Over these ten years, my son has grown from a toddler to a teenager while my mother has become a bit less spry, but each spring, we still find some new way to enjoy being together.  Here’s my list.

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Stony Brook herring run, Brewester –  Every spring in late April/early May, thousands of herring return from the ocean to Stony Brook, where they push hard against the current to jump up a series of “steps” towards the Mill Pond, where they spawn, and begin the cycle anew.  Native Americans once harvested herring at this site as did the Mayflower descendants who settled in Brewster in the 1660s. During the “Brewster in Bloom” festival during the first weekend in May, the grist mill at the site is open for tours. (The mill is open on a regular basis in the summer, but by then, the herring are gone). Technically, the visit to the herring run is one of our must-repeat rituals, but it is a highlight of  every trip, and thus gets top billing on this list.

At this point, we have outgrown the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History , also in Brewster, but have enjoyed many visits there, looking at the exhibits, participating in activities and watching birds through the museum’s binoculars and spotting scopes.  The museum trails through woodland and across the sand dunes on a boardwalk are manageable for everyone from toddlers to slow but steady walkers.

We loved our rollicking ride in a Chevy Suburban over the steep dunes of the Province Lands with Art’s Dune Tours, out of Provincetown.

On the dune tour, my then 9-year-old son experienced the Province Land dunes as I once did: they were massive mountains of sand. As an adult returning forty years later, the dunes loom as large, either because they've shrunk, or I've grown. But still great fun to ride up and over these soft mountains.

On the dune tour, my then 9-year-old son experienced the Province Land dunes as I once did: they were massive mountains of sand. As an adult returning forty years after my childhood visit, the dunes didn’t loom as large, either because they’ve shrunk, or I’ve grown. But it was still great fun to ride up and over these soft mountains.

Spring is usually too cold to sunbathe and swim, but many opportunities exist to explore the Cape Cod National Seashore, which offers ranger talks and other activities year-round, with extra events added during the April school vacation week.  We have walked on trails at the Nauset Visitor Center in Eastham, listened to stories of shipwrecks and the collapse of a massive parking lot at Coast Guard Beach during the Blizzard of 78, and wondered if Pilgrim Spring was truly where the Mayflower passengers first found fresh water after their Atlantic voyage.

Also part of the National Seashore, the Cedar Swamp Trail (trailhead at the Marconi Station parking area in Wellfleet) gets its own shout-out because it is mysterious and beautiful, especially after a heavy rain, when walkers feel as though they are walking on water as they traverse the boardwalk through the dark swamp. The Seashore also offers talks about Marconi Station, where, in 1903, Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first official wireless message across the ocean.

In Yarmouth, the Edward Gorey House, where the writer, artist, and designer lived for many years, is intriguing and delightful.

The Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth is full of whimsical sculptures, art work and odd things, and includes a scavenger hunt for kids.

The Edward Gorey House is full of whimsical sculptures, art work and odd things, and includes a scavenger hunt for kids.

Whale watching, Provincetown (aka Ptown)– Starting in early to mid-April, many species of whales, but especially humpback and the endangered right whales, hang out just off the tip of Cape Cod as they migrate into the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Whale watch season begins then, with boats going out when the weather is at all reasonable (chilly, but not stormy).  On our April excursion with Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, the temperatures climbed to the low 80s as we watched humpback whales  and right whales frolic just offshore of Race Point Beach.

Whale watch cruises run out of Provincetown starting in April, when Great Blues and Right Whales congregate off the tip of Cape Cod. You can also see their spouts, albeit just barely, from outer Cape beaches like Race Point.  On our whale watch, we saw a live Right Whale lounging amidst the fishing boats in Ptown Harbor.  It almost looked like a submarine surfacing.

Celebrating the start of whale watching season in Ptown. Watchers can also see whale spouts, albeit just barely, from outer Cape beaches like Race Point, where the Park Service often has rangers stationed with spotting scopes to share with visitors. On our whale watch, we saw a live Right Whale lounging amidst the fishing boats in P-town Harbor (to the left of this wharf). The whale almost looked like a submarine surfacing.

Pilgrim Monument and Museum is also a fun place to visit while in P-town, although it’s not an official member of this list, since my mother can no longer climb the many stairs to the windy top.

We explored the town cemetery during the ghost-hunting tour, hoping and fearing that a ghost might talk to us.

We explored the town cemetery during the ghost-hunting tour, hoping and fearing that a ghost might talk to us.

In Barnstable Village, the Ghost Hunters Tour, offered by the Cape and Islands Paranormal Research Society, gave the three of us plenty to talk about, especially when tour leader turned off the lights in the 1690-era old Barnstable jail (where visitors can spend the night on a CIPRS overnight adventure).  This tour included lots of interesting history and light walking, although my mom sat out the part where we walked around the dark cemetery with electro-magnetic detection devices and tried to commune with ghosts.

Seals, seals everywhere! The ever-changing sandy beaches of Monomoy Island, off Chatham, have become a seal mecca, with hundreds congregating there year round. Seal cruises are more of a summer activity, but Monomoy Island Excursions, out of Harwichport, run cruises on weekends after May 1 if they get a half-dozen or so passengers.

After May 1, X and other captains offer seal tours out of Harwich and Chatham to see the pack at Monomoy Island.  But don't expect to see the Great White sharks that now frequent the area during the summer months -- our captain goes out twice daily in July and august and has never seen a Great White.

After May 1, seal cruises are offered from Harwichport and Chatham.. But don’t expect to see the Great White sharks that now frequent the area during the summer months — our captain told us that he goes out twice daily in July and August and has yet to seen a Great White.

Finally, the Cape offers numerous places for walks and short hikes on countless beaches and woodland trails; one of my favorites is the walk in the sands of Morris Island within the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham.

I’m not sure how much longer these trips to Cape Cod will continue as my son moves on to high school. What’s certain is that this ritual of spring has carved memories and created bonds. Maybe one day I’ll be a senior citizen with a grandson or daughter and, like the herring, will return to Stony Brook once again.

 

 

 

About Dianne Fallon

Maniacal Traveler Dianne Fallon writes from a house in the woods in southern Maine. Her interests include travel, hiking and the outdoors, and history, and she is quickly becoming an Instagram-aholic, @themaniacialtraveler.
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