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Do the Dunes!
You Haven't Seen Cape Cod Until You've Toured the Dunes

Cape Cod Dunes Tour Photo

Ah, the dunes of the Cape... they've been written about, sung about...

and they're probably one of the first images that pop into your head when you envision Cape Cod.

And yet, many tourists visit Cape Cod without ever really experiencing one of New England's most remarkable natural wonders.

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It's easy to get caught up in all of the other enticements of the Cape... sandy, family beaches; villages teeming with cute little shops; seaside seafood shanties... but you haven't truly been to Cape Cod until you've done the dunes.

Of the 43,604 acres that comprise the Cape Cod National Seashore, 4,000 of them make up two-thirds of the town of Provincetown at the very tip of the Cape. It is here that you'll find the most dramatic dune views. The enormous sand deposits were left behind when Ice Age glaciers receded. It's difficult to imagine, but the dunes were covered with a layer of soil and densely forested before the arrival of European settlers. Deforestation led to massive shifting of sand as the winds sculpted the exposed landscape. Efforts to stabilize the dunes began in the 1800s, and the National Park Service has continued beach grass planting efforts since 1961, when the Cape Cod National Seashore was created.

Want to experience the dunes? There are several ways to see the dunes (including my own virtual tour), but by far the most entertaining is Art's Dune Tours. This tour company has a history that is almost as long and storied as that of the dunes themselves. OK, I exaggerate a bit, but Art's Dune Tours has been in existence for more than 60 years.

Art Costa first began sharing the wonder of the dunes with Cape Cod tourists in 1946 in a 1936 Ford Woody. Today, the family business is run by Art's son, Rob, and he and a "cast" of tour leaders keep alive the tradition of taking small groups of seven to nine passengers out onto the dunes in four-wheel-drive Suburbans.

Now, you can go out on the dunes in your own four-wheel-drive vehicle, but obtaining a permit will cost you quite a bit of cash, there aren't exactly any road maps to follow and you'll have to entertain yourself with amusing anecdotes and corny jokes. It's much more relaxing and amusing to simply book passage with Art's Dune Tours, grab the camera and allow Rob or one of the other guides to regale you with tales of the dunes' animal and human inhabitants as you make tracks through the sandy turf.

For a preview of what you'll see, or if you can't get to Cape Cod, come along with me on a virtual photo tour as I set out with Rob on a daytime dune excursion. (I promise not to give away too many of the jokes in Rob's repertoire.)

Art's Dune Tours - PictureArt's Dune Tours operates from mid-April to mid-November, and in addition to one-hour, narrated tours throughout the day, you can also reserve your place on a two-hour Sunset Tour with or without a BBQ, sushi or clambake dinner. Private charters for weddings on the dunes or other events are also available. Tours depart from 4 Standish Street in Provincetown--look for a small table set up on the sidewalk. Reservations are always a good idea, as tours only operate with a minimum number of passengers, and summertime can be quite busy. For reservations and pricing information, call 508-487-1950 or toll free, 800-894-1951.

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Photographs by Kim Knox Beckius, (c) 2001, licensed to About.com, Inc.

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