Lighthouses and Dunes.

The middle of May in New England: sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 60’s, and miles of open road ahead, with countless possible locations to visit. What better way to spend a day than to take a road trip to the shore, returning to Cape Cod to explore yet more of National Seashore Park. This time, the destination would be the oldest lighthouse on Cape Cod, as well as a walk along the Cape’s famous dunes.

Authorized by President George Washington in 1797 and constructed that same year, Cape Cod Light was a wooden lighthouse that served to warn ships of the dangerous Cape Cod coastline. The original lighthouse’s wood construction presented a fire hazard, so it was torn down in 1840 and was replaced by a brick tower. That building, however, was structurally unsound after only 17 years, and so in 1857 a new lighthouse was erected in its place, which stands to this day. It was also renamed “Highland Light” to prevent confusion due to the numerous other lighthouses on the Cape (via Wikipedia).

While the lighthouse still stands, it does not stand in the same place. Due to coastal erosion, by 1996 Highland Light stood a mere 10 feet from the edge of a 125-foot cliff. With the lighthouse in danger of falling into the ocean, engineers moved the lighthouse 450 feet away from the shoreline. While this was an engineering marvel, it is only a stopgap solution. At the current rate of erosion, the lighthouse will need to be moved again in approximately 130 years.

Front of Honda Accord with Massachusetts Cape Cod & Island specialty license plate.
DH’s new license plates, which served as inspiration for today’s trip. As described at the end of the post, proceeds from these specialty plates go to the upkeep of National Seashore Park. Tangent: I always remove my license plate numbers from photos. If you notice, I managed to preserve the sky and clouds on the plate despite removing the numbers. I’m not without skills.
Closeup photo of Nokian WR G3 tires.
For this trip, my car would be rolling on brand new tires. That story is also below.
Map of Boston and Cape Cod, with marker on Highland Light
Today’s destination: Highland Light in North Truro, MA.
Photograph of empty two-lane road on Cape Cod, with car's dashboard in foreground.
In a few weeks this will be a rare sight indeed: after Memorial Day, every road on Cape Cod will be crammed with summer traffic.
Honda Accord in foreground, Highland Lighthouse in background.
Arrived! I would have loved to have gotten DH closer to the lighthouse, but the driveway warned that it was for  “Authorized Vehicles Only!” This parking lot was as close as I could get.
Fence in foreground, Highland Light in background.
I am not complaining about the walk, though: it was a beautiful day!
Golf course sand trap and hole, with ocean in the distance.
The lighthouse is surrounded by Highland Golf Course. While I do not golf, I cannot imagine a prettier view! If you look closely at the horizon in this photo, you can see the ocean.
Highland Light and Keeper's House
Highland Light! The Keeper’s House (left) is now the gift shop.
Interior of gift shop, with displays about the history and science of lighthouses.
In addition to the gift shop, there was also a small museum about lighthouse operations.
Photograph hanging on wall of aerial shot of Highland Light in 1996.
Hanging in the gift shop was this aerial photograph of Highland Light in 1996. At the end of the shoreline, you do not see sand: it is a 125-foot vertical drop into the water. Quite obviously, the lighthouse needed to be moved.
Poster detailing how the lighthouse was moved.
This poster in the gift shop details how the lighthouse was moved. It was placed on a sled and slid across metal beams at the dizzying speed of 20 feet per hour. Initially, the lighthouse did not slide easily across the rails. The engineers’ high tech solution? Coating everything with lots and lots of Ivory soap. Things went smoothly after that.
Staircase in Highland light.
Unlike the lighthouses I climbed in Cape May and Barnegat, Highland Light is only 67 steps from bottom to top. It need not be very tall, however. Remember: it sits atop a 125-foot dune.
Wrought iron staircase in Highland light.
Despite only being 67 steps, wrought iron stairs gives me the creeps. Fear of heights? Check.
View from the keeper's station in the lighthouse.
At the top of the lighthouse, beneath the light itself, is the service room, where the lighthouse keeper would work.  It is quite a spectacular view.
View from the service room, looking toward the Atlantic Ocean.
A truly beautiful vista. From the service room, you can look out at the dunes and the ocean.
Metal staircase to top of lighthouse.
The stairs to the very top. Cool railing, huh? That’s right, there is none. And remember, a keeper would have to climb up these stairs while carrying highly flammable kerosene.
The lighthouse light inside of the lantern room.
The modern light that sits within the lantern room. The lighthouse still functions, although it is now fully automated.
Panoramic view from top of lighthouse.
View from the top!
From top of lighthouse, view of radar dome and stone tower from nearby air force base.
The dome on the left is a now-inoperative radar tower from the Cold War. The stone tower to the right is the Jenny Lind tower. Jenny Lind was an opera singer in the mid-19th century. She gave a concert at a train station in Boston. It was sold out, and to prevent a riot of the people being turned away, she gave a concert from this tower, which was part of the train station. In 1927, for reasons lost to history, the tower was purchased by a wealthy businessman and moved here.
Downward view of staircase.
Every climb up means a climb down… looking all the way to the ground. Sigh.
View of the staircase, looking upward from the bottom.
As I was leaving, this view, from the bottom of the stairs looking up, caught my eye.
Rock marker of original location of lighthouse.
This rock indicates the location of the original lighthouse. The viewing platform (in the background) has been moved twice due to erosion since 1996. Next week it will be moved back yet again.
Marker rock in foreground, lighthouse in background.
You can see how far the lighthouse was moved.
Warning signs cautioning visitors against venturing too close to the cliffs.
Danger! Danger! Peligroso! Achtung! The sign lets you know in four different languages that there’s a bit of a safety concern.
Highland Light, with Honda Accord in foreground.
I asked the lighthouse staff if I could drive up to the front of the lighthouse to take a picture. They kindly obliged. Thanks to this blog, I have gotten a lot more courageous in asking people permission to put my car in places that seem otherwise forbidden, and I have been surprised at how often the answer turns out to be: “Yeah, sure. Thanks for asking. Go right ahead.”
View through car windshield of dunes.
After leaving Highland Light, I thought I would stop by nearby Coast Guard Beach to see some of the dunes, although honestly, my photos do not do justice to the massiveness of the landscape.
Honda Accord in foreground, beach and ocean in background.
Although it looks like I could drive out to the beach from here, it is a bit of an optical illusion. The parking lot is on top of a dune, and there is a thirty-foot vertical drop past the wooden fence.
Panorama of dunes, beach, and ocean.
Panoramic shot of Coast Guard Beach.
Dunes and beach.
The dune to the left is only about forty feet high. Triple it, and that is how tall the dune is that Highland Light sits atop.
Close up of beach sand, with wavy pattern from waves, with ocean in background.
Ever since I was a little child, I have been fascinated with the way that waves at high tide leave these patterns in the sand.
View of ocean and beach through car windshield.
One last glimpse of the ocean before heading home.

Before I finish, some updates are in order. DH is finally equipped with Massachusetts license plates, and I chose to order “specialty plates” (pictured above), which display the Cape Cod dunes and Nauset lighthouse (which I visited a few weeks ago). The proceeds from the plates go toward supporting the National Seashore Park on Cape Cod. DH also passed his first Massachusetts vehicle inspection with flying colors. Second, my car is rolling on a brand new set of Nokian WR G3 tires, free of charge. A few months ago, I had noticed cracking on the tires where the tread meets the sidewall. Two tire shops (I got a second opinion) inspected the tires and pronounced that the cracking was not a safety issue, but they suggested I contact the manufacturer. I sent Nokian photos of the tires, and they also assured me it was not a safety issue, but they told me they want their customers to be happy, so despite the tires having over 30,000 miles of driving on them, they were replaced free of charge. Score!

Finally, some news from across the country. My friend Tyson, whose blog “Drive to Five” was one of the inspirations for this blog, recently added a new car to his stable of Acuras. His blog was originally started to detail his travels in his 500,000 mile 1994 Acura Legend coupe. The intervening years have seen him add an Acura NSX, an ILX, a Vigor, an Integra, and a Legend sedan to his stable of vehicles. Earlier this month, he took delivery of a 2007 Acura TL Type S. The third generation TL is, in my opinion, one of the nicest cars ever made, and you can read more about Tyson’s latest purchase here.

It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon on Cape Cod. Days like today I wish I was an artist, because the seascapes I witnessed deserved to be immortalized in a beautiful watercolor painting. But don’t take my word for it… visit Cape Cod National Seashore and see it for yourself! Highland Lighthouse, located in North Truro, is open daily from April through October, 10:30 am – 5:00 pm. Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for students and seniors, and children must be at least 48″ tall to climb the lighthouse. Thanks for coming along on another Voyage of DH!

‘Til next time.

8 thoughts on “Lighthouses and Dunes.

    1. Smoother, but also much quieter. The price for all that winter grip is a tire that gets noisy after about 25,000 miles. It’s whisper quiet right now. Glad you enjoyed the post!


  1. Hi, Tim,

    [Apologies if this comes through twice. I had a login issue.]

    Carlie showed me your blog today after I told her I’m heading up to explore some areas north of Boston this weekend. I’m loving it so far and I look forward to digging into it soon. But this post caught my eye, and I had to share with you a photo of the Highland Lighthouse from a different angle. This is where I had my first and only hole-in-one four years ago this week.

    Have a great weekend!


    Liked by 1 person

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