A Cape Cod Adventure in Chatham, MA

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Monomoy Island Wildlife Refuge

On one of our frequent “jump in the car and see where it takes you” adventures, Rich and I  headed to Chatham for an afternoon of exploration. Having a rare afternoon off from our duties as innkeepers, we took advantage of the record-breaking spring temperatures and put the top down on the converible. We took the Mid-Cape Highway to exit 11 then followed Route 137 into Chatham and cruised down Main Street. At the intersection of Main and Shore Rd., with Chatham Lighthouse on our left and Lighthouse Beach straight ahead, we opted to go right onto Morris island Road. It seemed the “road less taken” and being the curious sort, we meandered down the winding road until we could go no further.

Chatham Lighthouse

We ended up at the Monomy National Wildlife Refuge, a division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rich struck up a conversation with a gentleman in the parking lot who was selling tickets and handing out brochures for the Rip Ryder IV, a 32-foot, twin-engine vessel that takes passengers to North and South Monomoy Islands on a variety of excursions. He and his wife staff their mini-van from 8AM to 5PM daily in season, offering a variety of trips and tours, including beach, birding, and fishing shuttles to South Beach; day trips to the historic Monomoy Lighthouse; sea duck tours in the fall; and the ever-popular seal cruise, a 90-minute excursion to spot grey seals, who seem to prefer the waters along South Monomoy Island.

Grey Seals

If a seal cruise doesn’t interest you, you can always do what we ended up doing that afternoon and many subsequent afternoons hence. Start by packing a picnic and a couple of beach chairs into your vehicle. Drive to Chatham and find a good parking spot in the Wildlife Refuge parking lot, walk the nature trail along the top of the cliffs, stopping at the frequent overlooks for spectacular views of the ocean, then mosey down a set of wooden stairs to the beach below. At the bottom, take off your shoes, stroll down the beach to the right a bit away from the stairs (which is the launching spot for the shuttle), park your chair at the edge of the water and watch the parade of boats, birds, and sea life until the sun sets…or the tide comes in…or you get hungry or thirsty and the picnic basket is empty…or nature calls. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon.

Another great spot to while away an afternoon in Chatham is at the Fish Pier. One of the most photographed spots on Cape Cod, the Fish Pier is located at 54 Barcliff Avenue Extension, just off of Shore Road in Chatham, a quarter mile south of the Route 28 intersection. The best time to go is in late afternoon when the commercial fishing boats return to unload their daily catch. On any given day the catch can be cod, haddock, dogfish, lobster, tuna, or scallops that will be shipped to Boston, New York, or destinations overseas.

Take the stairway to the observation deck and watch the activity from a bird‘s eye view. It’s a treat for all your senses. A fish elevator transports the catch up, past your nose, and onto a conveyor belt that moves the haul into the processing plant. Seagulls screech above your head, and massive harbor seals lurk below hoping one of the fishermen will toss a treat their way.

As part of its community outreach efforts, the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen’s Association (CCCHFA) sends a fishing expert to the pier, Wednesdays through Saturdays in season, to answer visitors’ questions as part of their “Fish Pier Host” program. The hosts are generally retired commercial fisherman, with a wealth of information about the catch, the local waters, and what it’s like to fish commercially.

Both of these adventures are FREE, off-the-beaten-path for most visitors, and great photos ops for camera buffs.