Outside of the hustle and bustle of its thriving downtown lies the outer dunes of Provincetown.
Within this protected landscape, there are nineteen shacks of various shapes and sizes that have drawn writers to them and have served as the inspiration for many great works of American literature.
Join Producer Dave Fraser as he takes a tour of this historic region of the outer Cape.
Watch more stories about Cape Cod.
This story originally aired on August 13, 2022.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Outside of the hustle and bustle of its thriving downtown lies the outer dunes of Provincetown.
Within this protected landscape, there are nineteen shacks of various shapes and sizes that have drawn writers and artists to them and have served as the inspiration for many great works of American literature.
We join Producer Dave Fraser as he takes us on a tour of this historic region of the outer Cape.
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: The Dunes on the outer beach of Cape Cod were formed as a result of early settlers cutting down the trees. With nothing to hold the sandy soil in place, the land was shaped and eroded by each passing storm.
When the Dunes became part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, access was carefully restricted to minimize further damage. To see them, one must either hike in via one of the park’s approved trails or be driven in by a guide from Art’s Dune Tours. The only tour guide company that is allowed access to the Dunes by vehicle.
Rob Costa, Art’s Dune Tours: It’s always a treat out here because it’s so different. Every trip, between the lighting, the clouds, the colors, the vegetation, the people’s interests and the questions, you know.
So, between all of that, every single tour, every single day is different.
Dave Fraser: Rob Costa and his family have been taking people on tours of the Dunes since 1946. His dad started the business after returning home from World War Two.
Rob Costa: He ended up buying a 1936 Ford Woody, and he started his own company because he loved it so much, you know.
And he started running people out here in the dunes and giving them a kind of a thrill ride.
Dave Fraser: Tucked into the Dunes of Provincetown are a number of small shacks with a rich history. These dune shacks were originally constructed as life-saving huts for coastguardsmen in the late 1890s.
But most were built in the 1920s and 30s and used by the artist colony in Provincetown. The shacks provided solitude and a chance for creative inspiration.
Chris McCarthy, Provincetown Art Association & Museum: To go out to experience a Dune Shack is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s magical.
For someone to give you the opportunity of solitude in the National Seashore, in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, I don’t — I can’t imagine how you couldn’t be inspired.
Dave Fraser: It’s about a two-mile walk through soft sand from your car to reach the Dune Shacks, they have no running water and no electricity. There are kerosene lamps for light and wells dug in the sand for hand pumping drinking and washing water.
Photographer Julie Tremblay hikes out to the shacks often.
Julie Tremblay, Photographer: I started going out to the Dunes to shoot just the Dunes and I discovered the shacks. And then I started doing some research and it became like sort of this quest, like this really fun treasure hunt , to try to find them all and figure them out.
Dave Fraser: One of the most famous early residents of the Dune Shacks was playwright Eugene O’Neill. But they have also drawn the likes of Tennessee Williams, Jackson Pollock, Norman Mailer, and e.e. Cummings.
Today, several nonprofits in Provincetown helped the National Park Service with summer residency programs.
Julie Trembley: If you want a clean composition, it’s a great place to go because you’ve got huge expanses going out. You’ve got the ocean. You’ve got these incredible skies. You’ve got the sand, you’ve got the light. It’s crazy beautiful.
This is about five o’clock in the morning. And what was great was that the moon and the moon setting in the sun rising were happening within like 10 minutes of each other.
So, the sun is just coming up and it’s just hitting the top — and you can see it hitting the tips of the fence — so the sun is still on the way up and the moon is on his way down. So, that was kind of a nice bonus.
Christopher Seufert, Photographer: For me, that was a next-level experience on Cape Cod. I didn’t walk out to the Dune Shacks or even out to that landscape ’til I was 40.
When you get to the top and you feel like you’re in the Gobi Desert and you’ve never seen anything like that on Cape Cod — I just had that thought when I was 40 into that. Like, how did it take me this long to get to this spot?
Dave Fraser: Rob Costa and his crew continues to introduce visitors to this back shore environment of Provincetown by way of his Dune Tours. This year, his company will celebrate 75 years.
Inspiration and creativity seem to go hand-in-hand on the Outer Beach. Artists flock here for the solitude, the love of the land and the creativity it inspires. And families still come and raise their children.
Rob Costa: I took my mom on a Dune Tour many years ago. We drive by Ray Wells Shack and she tells everybody in the truck I was conceived behind it. I’m like, “Oh my God, Ma!” It was like a mike-drop moment. But it was a true story.
So, like, I got married out here to my husband, Rob, and that’s why, because I was conceived and, you know, got married. And when I die, if I if I can get some ashes out here, that would be good to