North America


-From the observation station at MesaVerde National Park in the state of Colorado, the first sighting of multi-storied cliff dwellings built by the ancient Puebloans is almost overwhelming. Puebloans, ancestral peoples of the Hopis, Zunis, Utes, and Navajos, lived in the area from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300, predating the arrival of Europeans on to the continent by more than 800 years.

-The citadel they built nestles precariously in cavernous alcoves carved out of vertical rock walls and separated from awestruck visitors by an immense chasm. These ancient structures are framed by piñon pines, Utah junipers, bristling yucca, a paucity of green vegetation, rugged canyon walls with orange tinted sandstone and shale punctuated by pools of water from seeping springs. The introduction to Mesa Verde National Park is a truly breathtaking experience!


-Access to some cliff dwellings is only by ranger-guided tours. Sturdy walking shoes, water, and head covering are required when navigating the spaces between boulders, walking on paths cut into the sides of the mesas, climbing up and down ladders, and sometimes crawling through short tunnels to get in or out of the dwellings. Some cliff dwellings, like Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House have as many as 100 rooms with well defined living, religious and communal spaces.


-Other cliff dwellings, like Spruce Tree House, are self-guided tours, with park rangers on site to answer questions and offer assistance. In all instances there are constant reminders about the fragile nature of the sites, the need to leave it as undisturbed as possible, and to refrain from eating and leaving refuse that could attract animals.

-Mesa Verde, Spanish for Green Table, was designated the first national park in 1906 and is the only park in North America created specifically for the preservation of human culture. Home to more than 600 cliff dwellings and more than 4,000 archeological sites, it abuts the Ute Tribal lands offering shared grazing grounds for many animals including descendants of Spanish quarter horses.

- -Mesa Verde National Park is located at the Four Corners, the only place in the continental United States where four states - Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado - come together. Visitors are drawn the Four Corners area for many reasons. The first is to explore the Grand Circle of nine national parks, monuments and tribal parks.

They include Colorado National Monument, Black Canyon, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, Moab, and Canyonlands. And yes, Mesa Verde National Park, designated the number one world heritage site to visit, by Conde Nast Traveler.

-It goes without saying that a car is needed in order to explore Mesa Verde Park and its surroundings. Drive the Trail of the Ancients stopping to see several self-guided sites such as the Lowry Pueblo community and Painted Hand Pueblo. Birders would be delighted at the hawks, grouse, eagles, sparrow, chickadees, and hummingbirds that nest there.

-Hovenweep National Monument is the twenty mile expanse along the Utah-Colorado border protecting six prehistoric communities. There, the peacefulness and perfect interdependence of humans, the landscape, and remains of the ancestral Puebloans is fully understood.

-The Anasazi Heritage Center, with hiking trails overlooking the Dolores River and the McPhee reservoir, houses records, samples and artifacts from public lands through Southwestern Colorado and serves as the visitor center for the canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Other Attractions in the Area:

-For visitors to this region of the country a delectable smorgasbord of attractions is there to be sampled properly in as few as four days, more leisurely in ten days, or even permanently as some retirees report. Exploring the park and its environs can be physically strenuous. For those desiring a less active visit, itineraries can be planned starting in Denver that allow for sampling the theater, driving to Pagaso Springs for soaking in the Hot Springs and then on to Durango to experience the Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad or to Telluride via the exquisite San Juan Skyway. Aspen and Ouray are considered by many to be on the list of top ten places to visit in Colorado.

-For the more active, the area of Southwest Colorado is rich with possibilities that include visiting wineries, spas, shopping, archaeological expeditions, hiking, camping, stage coach rides, steam locomotive travel, in addition to the proximity of the national parks and monuments as well as learning more about the extensive history of several Native American nations.

Cortez City:


-Cortez, CO, the city closest to Mesa Verde Park, can only be accessed by air on Great Lakes Airlines from Denver. Bikers, cyclists, and motorists can enjoy the roadways connecting mountains and deserts that wend toward and through the park.

Marcos Valley:


-Explorations of archeological and historical sites can be balanced with stage coach rides and wine tasting. Twelve miles from Mesa Verde Park, nestled in Weber Canyon is Mancos Valley. There, Eric and Lizzie Bartels, owners of the Bartels' Mancos Valley Stage Line have recreated a slice of the Wild, Wild West. Eric's talk and the tour of his collection of coaches ensures that connections of purpose, style and construction in stage coaches are well understood. A one hour ride in the countryside at sunset complete with the holdup by the masked bandit ends with a meal of huge steaks (special dietary considerations are met with scrumptious alternatives), and music at the salon. History buffs will love learning about the role stage coaches played in the expansion and settlement of the west.

For Wine Connoisseurs:

- -Wine connoisseurs, on the other hand, would be quite at home at the Guy Drew Vineyards run by Guy and his wife Ruth, in McElmo Canyon. Visitors can tour the 2,500-square-foot pueblo style straw bale winery, complete with tanks, barrel room, lab, and crushers built on an ancient Anasazi trade route, six miles from Cortez. The wines, red and white, are produced under the Crooked Creek label from local grapes, most of which are grown on their 155 acre farm.

A special feature of the Guy Drew Vineyards is wine-tasting in their large, airy kitchen fostering stimulating conversations among visitors, locals who come for personal purchases, and neighbors popping in to say hello.

Planning Meal Stops While on the Road:

-Exploring the deserts and mountains means traveling away from cities and towns, restaurants are far and few between so meals have to be preplanned. Picnic baskets filled with lunches and goodies from the Cortez Farmers market, local bakeries, and supermarkets are handy. In town, however, on Main Street in Cortez, and within walking distance of the Best Western Turquoise Inn and Suites and other hotels in town, there are many excellent choices.

-Outdoor dining is popular, when the weather cooperates. At Shiloh's, lunch was served on the second of the three levels of patio, amid the plants and water lily covered pools. At the Dry Dock seafood dinner specialties were served on the patio with a large fountain. Live music is often provided by local performer Donnie Johnson. Downtown Cortez is home to the Cortez Cultural Center, trading posts, and other specialty shops.

Local Accommodations:

-The Best Western Turquoise Inn and Suites with a Southwestern décor gets special mention for its gift shop offering a wide range of books and posters on Native American and southwestern topics as well as locally designed jewelry and clothing.

-Far View Lodge, 15 miles inside the Mesa Verde National Park is managed by the National Park Service in collaboration with ARAMARK, and, like the park is open year-round, offering breathtaking views of the mesas from all rooms. Environmentally-friendly policies guide maintenance of the landscape and honor the local historical cultural traditions.

-All four park restaurants use products grown and raised on nearby farms as a part of the effort to sustain the local communities. From the casual Mesa Mocha Espresso Bar to the Metate Room Restaurant meals for any budget, palate and dietary restrictions are available. Guest rooms are without television sets. Internet and cell phone service is sporadic at best while in the park.

A Final Thought:


-Exploring the park and its surroundings is all about garnering memories, broadening knowledge of Native American history, deepening understanding of connections among the various groupings of human beings, and renewing respect and admiration for the wonders of nature.

Additional Information:

27501 Highway 184,
Dolores, Colorado USA 81323
Phone: (970) 882-5600 | Fax: (970) 882-7035


25 N Market St
Cortez, CO 81321
(970) 565-1151

Email: guydrew@fone.net

1-800-365-3530 or 970-533-9857

1 Navajo Hill
Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
(970) 533-1944

535 E Main St,
Cortez, CO 81321
(800) 780-7234

5 Veach St,
Cortez, CO 81321
(970) 565-6560

200 W Main St,
Cortez, CO 81321
(970) 564-9404

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