The Shack: A Week in the Dunes - Allie Richards Photography

The Shack: A Week in the Dunes

Written by: Allison Richards



Time to read 5 min

Dune Shack nestled in the sand dunes at sunrise

C-Scape: Home Away from Home

In April 2023, I was lucky to stay inside one of the 19 dune shacks nestled in the Provincelands. C-Scape would be my home away from home for 7 days and nights. 

The Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District includes dune shacks that were and are home to artists and writers from the 1920s onward. They have a long history beginning with the 'lifesavers' in the 1800s who would call these dunes home during their stints aiding fishermen. The shacks are weathered, isolated, without modernities like electricity or running water, and most of all - peaceful. The shacks are a beacon of simpler times where one can be immersed in and become one with patterns of nature and weather. You can read more about the dune dwellers and the history of these shacks here.

You may have heard about the Shacks as they have been in the news recently due to the NPS decision to put 8 of the shacks up for public bid - a highly controversial subject in the local community. I want to be clear that I am a proponent of maintaining the shacks as the cultural icons that they are, and want to preserve them as dwellings for the wayward and free spirits who choose to be their inhabitants and caretakers.

Wooden window looking out into the sand dunes


~ modest but cozy and everything you need ~

Bed in shack loft
kitchen space inside the shack
dining area inside shack
living room in the shack
Sunrise in the Provincelands
Foggy day in the sand dunes

Left: First Light just atop the sand dune
Right: It's incredible how the dunes transform; I love these "Fogscapes"

Life by Oil Lamp

One of the first things that I didn't "expect" was how your body adjusts to the natural cycle of days and nights. Once the sun dips below the horizon, so do you. Things become much more difficult to do when the only source of light you have is candlelight. I would wake up early with the sunrise (as I'd be baking in my loft bed with the sun beating down on me) and go to bed shortly after sunset. There is no need for clocks or to tell time; simply look outside.

By the weeks end, I felt comforted by the oil lamps; their soft light and warm glow made me feel cozy and safe in my little wood shack. It didn't feel like I was out here completely alone, not another soul for miles.

Lit oil lamp
Poem "The Lamps" by Mary Oliver

The interior is adorned with sweet notes, artwork, and found materials

Abstracted wave panorama during sunset

Fire: A Shack Necessity

In the month of April, the woodstove is on every night and morning. The start of the week was very cold, dipping to freezing temperatures. Without any insulation or other sources of heat, this stove would determine my comfort. Growing up, my parents had a woodstove, but I never really paid attention to how to start and stoke the fire. I did learn how to do it myself this week. I sat by the fire each morning drinking a coffee, waking up slow, wondering how I might spend my day.

Cozying up in slippers before the wood stove

Notebook Entries From Previous Artists

~ I found a handful of bound books full from front to back with handwritten notes detailing previous tenant's experiences, trials and tribulations at C-Scape. Many of them artists. I spent hours flipping through the pages, illustrations, polaroids, and poetry inspired by time spent in the very same shack. ~

A polaroid photograph inside the shack
A charcoal drawing of the dunes
A block print of the shack
A poem about mice

Love the stamped date and old polaroids!

A charcoal drawing of the dune view out the front door, and what beautiful script writing.

I love how much talent has passed through here. What an adorable block print!

I can relate to this one ~ a couple days into my stay I started to hear and see the mice that also call C-Scape home. 

The morning sun shining on a dune shack

The morning sun shining perfectly on my little dune dwelling

A sunset reflected in a wave
A sunset reflected in a wave

One benefit to living by the ocean is you experience every sunrise + sunset; and each is beautiful in its own way.

A foggy day on the dunes with a single wave

The Camp Kitchen

~ simple cooking for simple living ~

If you've ever been on one of my photo tours you'll know that I'm somewhat of a 'foodie' -
I appreciate great food and make sure to treat my guests to the best. I would not say I'm a chef - not at all - but I do enjoy making a delicious meal from simple ingredients. Pretty much a requirement when you don't have running water or an oven.

  1. This meal was so good I made it twice. Sweet sausage with bowtie pasta and spinach in a parmesan cream sauce. And, all cooked in one pan is a win!
  2. This may have been my favorite meal this year so far; it was the last night in the shack and Jake came by to stay with me after work. Marinated rib-eye steak, cucumber & onion salad, perfectly seared scallops and mashed potatoes.
  3. To keep it easy - I ate nearly the same things for lunch each day. Salad with greens, tomato, red onion and cucumber, and either chicken salad or an Italian sandwich with salami, prosciutto, provolone, tomato, red onion, mayo and white vinegar. Mmm mm.

Alone in the Dark

Star trails overhead at night
Star trails overhead at night

"Star Trails over C-Scape" - Aligning your camera to the North Star creates a focal point and circular trails;

Shooting the opposite direction creates opposite results.

One of goals for this week was to spend time photographing the night sky. Too often do I get bogged down in my day-to-day work that I have no energy left to explore and photograph, especially in the night. This week was the perfect opportunity to create images I have had in my mind for some time - the moon phase was right, the weather was clear, the milky way was out, and I had nothing but time. & Yes - the coyotes were out, howling away. They would come close to the shack at night, practically next to the windows. But they didn't bother me. I like to think of my tripod as a good weapon if I ever needed it!

camera on a tripod pointed to the night sky
A Shack with the Milky Way overhead

"Between Sand & Stars" - This is my favorite image created over the week. I hiked about 2.5 miles down the beach each way in the dead of night to create this work that I have imagined for some time. The tail of the Milky Way rising over the Tasha/Kemp shack. During this week, there were no other dune shack tenants, so I felt safe in illuminating the structure. It is not okay to be skulking around the dunes late at night during the regular season when people are sleeping inside.

A sunset over a walking path to the ocean

"Transcend" - I love this image and the trafficked path to the sea over the dune - Inviting

A sunset overlooking a bluff to the ocean

"The Perfect Day" - A most beautiful sunset to close out a beautiful day

A Dune Shack Retreat

My week in C-Scape was one of rest, rejuvenation and endless inspiration. I am looking forward to my next dune shack stay in the years to come. If you choose to visit these historic structures, please visit these special spaces with respect for privacy, for nature and preservation. 

Photo of the author

Allie Richards

Allie is a year-round resident of Cape Cod, MA. She's a full-time landscape photographer known for her bright and vibrant style. She travels often exploring the world through her lens to places far and wide, and of course her own backyard by the beach. Allie is also a co-owner, web manager, tour planner and guide for BlueHour Photo Ventures. You can find Allie leading many of their photo tours to incredible destinations throughout the year.