Nauset Beach – Orleans, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura
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Orleans, Massachusetts

Nauset Beach

Centuries-old hoofprints and wagon tracks reveal themselves in the peat after a good winter storm. 

The same storms that have recently taken away the outer beach oversand track and the famous Liam’s clam shack at Nauset Beach have also given something back to those interested in Cape Cod history. Centuries-old wagon tracks and hoofprints have emerged in several broad strips at the water’s edge, revealing a hidden piece of the beach’s past.

The prints have long been verbal lore among the old timers, but the physical evidence has been lacking since the storms typically erode the peat below the dunes in smaller chunks rather than intact sheets. But thankfully, when the recent storms unleashed their fury along the coast, they revealed entire canvasses covered with traces of past travelers rather than just fragmented bits.

These tracks were likely formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They’re more akin to a highway than a simple one-way path, with lines and indentations crossing one another in overlapping layers. Historians and archaeologists can date the tracks by calculating the time when the marsh that created the peat stood at this particular spot behind the former dunes.

Measurements of the horseshoes could also show the ages and size of the horses and the wheel tracks can indicate what style of carts and wagons were in use. Old coins have also been found speckled among the site.

Sadly, given that these old tracks only reveal themselves at the same time they’re being destroyed by the tide, it’s unlikely they’ll be designated a permanent historical site. However, there’s a good chance there are more prints still protected and obscured from sight beneath the sand, waiting to creep to the surface after the visible ones have vanished.

Know Before You Go

This site is commonly able to seen/visited after winter storms on Nauset Beach and then within a few days cover up. See a video of the site here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oorL41np9_I