The southwestern Colorado town of Cortez, one of America's richest archaeological centers, lies between the entrance to world-famous Mesa Verde National Park and the fascinating Ute Mountain Tribal Park. After you visit these sites, you'll leave steeped in the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, from the places they lived to the tools they used in everyday life.
Ancestral Puebloans lived in the Mesa Verde area for more than eight centuries. The park is most famous for its cliff dwellings, but many of the surface sites also tell the story of the people who inhabited this area for centuries. At nearby Crow Canyon Archeological Center, the story of the Ancestral Puebloans is still being studied. Day programs offer a glance into the field of archaeology, and weeklong programs include the opportunity to excavate at a working archaeological site.
The Cortez Cultural Center provides a glimpse into current Native American culture with free dances, occurring six nights a week during the summer months, and many special events all year long. To see some of the area's native flora, visit the center's Hawkins Preserve, where you can also bike, hike, rock climb and stargaze. Mesa Verde National Park was the 100th destination to be named an International Dark Sky Park, so outstanding celestial views are guaranteed.
Tucked between the majestic La Plata Mountains, the mysterious Sleeping Ute Mountain and Mesa Verde's iconic silhouette, Cortez boasts 116 acres of parks and trails, as well as a professional 18-hole golf course, the Conquistador Golf Course. In the heart of town, the Parque de Vida offers fishing ponds, a BMX trail and amphitheater for summer concerts. The area is becoming more and more popular for its challenging mountain-bike terrain, no doubt in part due to the popularity of Phil's World, a trail system built by mountain bikers that has garnered national attention.
The town sits along the Trail of the Ancients scenic and historic byway, as well, which is a great way to see the region's many archeological treasures. A short drive south of Cortez is McElmo Canyon, the location for the growing micro-industry of viticulture. Enjoy daily wine tasting from one of the vintners.
Cortez, a community near the Four Corners (where the borders of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet), offers an excellent choice of lodging as well as a wide variety of restaurants ranging from fast food to gourmet. Many of the exceptional trading posts in the area date back for generations and have helped make Cortez a trading center for more than 1,000 years.
Read A Cortez & Mesa Verde National Park Itinerary >>