​A walk in Provincetown

"P-town" is the nickname for Provincetown, the vacation spot that attracts thousands of visitors each summer. Mo Rocca takes us on a guided tour:

Henry David Thoreau described Cape Cod as "the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts." If you go to the very, very end of that arm, you'll arrive at Provincetown.

The dunes of Cape Cod.
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Just three miles long and two streets wide, the town is surrounded on three sides by water, hence that glorious light. "The light is like the light out at sea," said writer Michael Cunningham. "It's not land light."

When asked to describe the light, businessman Dave Roberts said, "You can't. It changes by the day. By the hour. By the minute."

In the words of Norman Mailer, Provincetown is "a gaudy run with Mediterranean splashes of color, crowded steep-pitched roofs, fishing piers, and fishing boats."

You may have heard of "P-town," as it's known, as a popular summer getaway, especially for gay tourists. It's also one of America's oldest arts colonies -- a longtime sanctuary for novelists, playwrights, painters and Pilgrims.

Yes, Pilgrims! In 1620, the Pilgrims landed first in Provincetown before heading on to Plymouth, and Provincetown has the monument to prove it.

Writer Michael Cunningham.
CBS News

"The monument's kind of like the beacon of Provincetown," said Rob Costa, who operates Art's Dune Tours, founded by his father in 1946.

"Only dune tours and shack dwellers are allowed into the trails here," he said.

Out here, a Who's-Who of American artists have found inspiration and solitude in the rustic dune shacks perched precariously on these wild and shifting sands.

Some of the great artists and writers who have spent time in Provincetown include Jack Kerouac , Sinclair Lewis, Jackson Pollock, E.E. Cummings, and two of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century: Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.

"They say he wrote some of the last finishing touches of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' there," said Costa. "And they claim Marlon Brando did, in fact, walk across the dunes to audition for his role in that production in that shack."

"It was a good role -- it was worth hiking over the dunes for," said Rocca. "And out here, If you scream, 'Stella!' no one can hear you!"