Make Cortez Colorado your home base for a visit to Mesa Verde

Five Reasons to Visit Cortez Colorado - Mesa Verde Country and more

Cortez, Colorado is a laidback, unpretentious town that sits in the middle of some of the most astounding ancient native American cultural sites. Joined by the towns of Dolores, Mancos and Towaoc, the area is an unexpected find. Plan to make Cortez your headquarters as you explore the area. Head out in the morning to explore, come back in the evening for the pleasures of Cortez.

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Archeological sites of the Ancient Native Americans

Alternatively called the Anasazi or the Ancestral Puebloans, the terms refer to the people who lived throughout the four corners area of Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. They are considered to be the forerunners of the Pueblos, as well as the Navajo, Hopi, and the Ute.

It must be noted that not all groups agree as to the history and heritage, or the meaning of the world Anasazi.

Mesa Verde National Park

In the USA, a country where historic references anything more than 100 years old, the remnants of the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans -- which date back to 1000 AD-- draw thousands in a pilgrimage to this ancient civilization that is in our own backyard. The people of USA's southwest wove beautiful baskets, harvested the three sisters -- corn, beans, and squash -- built ceremonial centers (kivas) and multi-level housing.

This civilization thrived for over 750 years from 550 to 1300 AD. Then, the dwellings emptied, leaving only the tantalizing remains of their villages. Mesa Verde National Park is deservedly famous as the best destination to explore that venerable heritage.

Hovenweep National Monument

The stone towers of Hovenweep National Monument attracts far fewer visitors. Its relative obscurity comes from its location. Although on paved roads, Hovenweep's 20-mile expanse of mesa tops and canyons sheltering 6 villages lies along the Utah-Colorado border in truly in the middle of nowhere. Make the journey anyway.

Ute Mountain Tribal Park

On Ute land, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park offers special Native American interpretation and tours of the homelands of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. All tours are fully escorted and interpreted. Half-day and full-day tours are available. The former are scenic and require little hiking. The full-day tours include difficult to reach, well-preserved canyon cliff dwellings in Lion Canyon.

Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

It is recommended that visitors first go to the Anasazi Heritage Center, 10 miles north of Cortez and three miles west of Dolores, for orientation and update on current conditions as well as to learn about the heritage and civilization. There are over 160,000 acres of wilderness. Roam, hike, explore. But do it carefully. Canyon of the Ancients is huge wide-open land with few services.

Four Corners: Stand on the intersection of four states

Located about 40 miles southwest of Cortez, Four Corners Monument in Shiprock New Mexico is the only spot in the USA where four states meet. Stand on it, sit on it, have a blast with the idea of being in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona -- simultaneously. The Four Corners Monument is on Navajo land with an admission charge, and shopping opportunities. And totally fun photo ops as well.

For the other great reasons to visit Cortez, head into town.

Notah Dineh Trading Company and Museum

This is the place to get your shopping fix and museum in one place. The Notah Dineh Trading Company and Museum is a great place to "window" shop or buy jewelry, sandpaintings, pottery and other native American art. The museum side started over 50 years ago and includes the largest known Two Grey Hills weaving in the world. Plus, bits and pieces of the Old West and beautiful beaded leatherwear, fringed dresses and leggings, and some historic firearms. On your way into the shop, along the parking lot wall, admire the mural Navajo Flea Market by James King.

Cortez Cultural Center

Also in town is the Cortez Cultural Center that provides an introduction to native American culture. In the summer, attend one of the free dance exhibitions held in the small amphitheater against a backdrop of the beautifully executed mural as a background. The wall has been turned into a pueblo with perfect perspective. It is a must-see sight in Cortez.

Excellent Dining and Casual Meals

Shiloh Steakhouse

This is one of the culinary highlights for any carnivore. I started with the southwest chicken soup which was deliciously made from scratch and richly flavored. All dinners come with their own bread (Shiloh Steakhouse a bakery as well) and preserves that tasted more like intensely flavored pureed fruit than anything commercially prepared.

I choose the filet mignon wrapped in bacon. Procured from a local rancher, the beef was tender, flavorful and perfectly cooked. The bacon that wrapped the beef was lean and crisp, but with enough flexibility to wrap around the meat. I requested mushroom and onions on the side, and both were perfect. This is a steak house that really knows steak. Definitely eat here.

Cortez Colorado with great wine and food is an excellent
	 home base for a visit to sites of Native American history and culture

The Farm Bistro

Whether for a casual meal, or take out the Farm is a local favorite for a reason -- fresh local and regional ingredients.

Wine tasting

A surprising variety of grapes are successfully grown in Cortez area because of its unusual micro-climate. Right in town there are two wineries and both offer free tastings of quite excellent wine.

Sutcliffe Vineyards

Beautifully scenic as well as offering high quality wines you can sip their wines sitting outside overlooking the mountains. Sutcliffe Vineyards also offer, in addition to the traditional varieties, a light red wine from the Cinsaut grape which makes a perfect summer red. Their 2008 Syrah was particularly enticing with its gentle spice. Although open daily from noon to five, call first to insure someone is around to provide a tasting.

Guy Drew Vineyard

Warm and friendly Guy Drew Vineyards also offers free tastings daily noon to 5. But these take place with the large sprawling straw-bale built Drew family house. Sit with Ruth or Guy Drew in their spacious kitchen around the family table, or outside on the patio, or even in their living room. The atmosphere is more like a convivial group of friends visiting than it is a formal wine tasting. And the wines are excellent. Their rose is based on the cabernet franc (one of my particularly favorite grapes) and is light and fruity. Their viogner is also a delight, and their Metate wines differ in content from year to year but offer a blend of some of the best grapes grown that year. You can also find their wines served in most restaurants in town. And is a great way to both enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and try an excellent Colorado wine.


For a wonderful upscale farm experience Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch is a working 2,000 acre farmstead. They have four cabins available, each comfortably and thoughtfully furnished. They range in size from a one-bedroom with tiny utilitarian kitchen to a historic expanded cabin with full kitchen and dining area. All come with its own patio and bbq. Any produce from the garden is available free to guests as a pick-your-own experience.

The farm itself uses no fertilizers on their produce, raises their grass fed cattle strictly naturally. If you'd like, you can request them to stock the refrigerator with some of their excellent beef (extra charges apply). They also have freshly laid eggs from their truly free range chickens.

Cortez is Mesa Verde Country, and makes a perfect home base for exploring southwest Colorado.

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Neala McCarten

Updated: April 6, 2017

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