Cortez, Colorado – Mesa Verde Country in Southwest Colorado has been home to Native American communities for several thousands of years. What they’ve left behind is one of the most abundant collections of archaeology sites in the entire country. Here are some of the best ways visitors can enjoy the area’s archaeology, history and Western heritage.
Archaeologist Attractions in Mesa Verde Country Mesa Verde National Park – the only park dedicated to preserving the villages and structures hand-built by ancient civilizations – boasts more than 80 square miles to explore. Approximately 600 of the over 5,000 archaeological sites found in Mesa Verde National Park are cliff dwellings. Other sites include mesa-top pueblos, farming terraces, towers, reservoirs and check dams.
But the park isn’t the only attraction archaeology-loving explorers will enjoy in Mesa Verde Country. The Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is a rugged and breathtaking 176,000-acre landscape that contains the highest known density of archaeological sites in the U.S. Lowry Pueblo is the only developed recreation site within the monument. It features 40 rooms, eight kivas and a Great Kiva.
Hovenweep National Monument includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D 1200-1300. A variety of structures include the multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on borders. Experts think these were used as celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage buildings, homes or a combination thereof.
The 125,000-acre Ute Mountain Tribal Park offers tribal member-guided tours of the pictographs, cliff dwellings, surface ruins and artifacts. This park was named by National Geographic Traveler as one of the “80 World Destinations for Travel in the 21st Century” – one of only nine U.S. destinations to receive the designation.
At the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, travelers can play archaeologist for the day! Experiences include visiting a current excavation site, touring a working archaeology lab, and exploring the fascinating history of the Ancestral Puebloans. Participants can also be among the first to excavate at the Haynie Site near Cortez and help researchers understand the Chaco influence in the Mesa Verde region. The new multi-year study features two Chaco-period Great Houses.
The visitors center for Crow Canyon is the remarkable Anasazi Heritage Center, which is also a museum of the native cultures in the Four Corners Region. Many of the exhibits – like weaving on a loom, grinding corn into metate and handling real artifacts – are interactive.
History & Heritage Housed in a 1909 historic building, the Cortez Cultural Center contains a wealth of information on archaeology and the history of the area’s Native American people. The Center’s museum displays interpretative exhibits about the Native American tribes who’ve called Mesa Verde home, as well as monthly art exhibits that feature local and regional artists. The outdoor plaza hosts Native American dances.
The history and vibrancy of today’s Pueblo people live on in their traditions, dances and artistic expressions. Trading posts and festivals provide visitors an opportunity to view traditional dances and experience the timeless artistic traditions of weaving, pottery, jewelry making and other art forms. Another way to experience the life of today’s Pueblo people is to visit their tribal cultural centers and museums, or to observe one of their annual Pow-wows or Feast Days, where visitors may view the reverent dances and songs offered on those days. Pow-wows and Feast Days bring tribal members together to renew their culture, language and native religion.
The town of Mancos is dubbed the place where the “West still lives.” Louis L’Amour used the Mancos River Valley as inspiration for his Western novels, and the town still maintains the historic charm captured in his works. Nowhere else can one immerse oneself in authentic cowboy culture than in Mancos. There are even cattle drives down Main Street here and one of the oldest operating bars in Colorado, The Columbine.
Edible History The Ancestral Puebloans were the first agriculturists in the area, farming the valleys and mesas of Montezuma County, including Mesa Verde National Park, until about 1300 A.D. Growing primarily corn, beans, and squash, they laid the agricultural foundation for today’s farmers, ranchers, and vintners who carry on this long tradition. New this year, Mesa Verde Country is offering Farm & Ranch Tours, enabling visitors to get up close and personal to the farming and ranching traditions in the region.
Additionally, Mesa Verde Country is home to two wineries, four breweries, two cideries, and an array of exceptional restaurants – many of which take advantage of the rich agriculture in the area to offer creative farm-to-table fare. For those more interested in a cold beer, there are a few in Cortez – WildEdge Brewery, Main Street Brewery or J. Fargos. The Dolores River Brewery in downtown Dolores and the Mancos Brewing Company in the heart of Mancos are other options. Fenceline Cider and Teal Cider are also available.
About Mesa Verde Country Mesa Verde Country is in southwest Colorado near the entrance to the magnificent Mesa Verde National Park. The nearby towns of Cortez, Dolores, and Mancos provide accommodations, dining, outdoor fun and visitor services. Named the “Number One Historic Monument in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler and one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime-The World’s Greatest Destinations” by National Geographic, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the nation’s first World Heritage sites and the largest archaeological preserve in the country. Two national byways pass through Mesa Verde Country. In addition to the National Park, Mesa Verde Country is loaded with other archaeological attractions: Hovenweep National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, the Anasazi Heritage Center and the Cortez Cultural Center. Mountain biking enthusiasts have recognized Mesa Verde Country as one of the next great mountain biking destinations.