If you’re visiting the Four Corners and coming from the west, consider traveling a little farther and spending a day or two at Mesa Verde National Park or a few of the other historic sites nearby. The park is famous for those really neat ancient cliff dwellings!
The drive from Four Corners to Cortez, CO (which is the town outside of Mesa Verde), is only 40 minutes, or 40 miles away. With it being so close, we chose to make that the next stop on our road trip.
As you drive into southwest Colorado you’re greeted with views of the Ute Mountains. They lie on the Ute Indian Reservation which occupies the lower southwestern border of Colorado that you’ll pass through.
The mountains are also known as the “Sleeping Ute”, which name comes from the resemblance of the mountains to a Ute chieftain laying down and sleeping with arms crossed on his chest. If you look closely at the whole range from certain angles, you can see it.
As you drive along and enter Cortez, you’ll come up to a bunch of restaurants and shops. It’s a nice little town and has some good low cost places to stay overnight if you’re visiting the nearby attractions. In the distance to the east you can spot the San Juan Mountain Range coming into view.
From then on it’s only a few more miles past town to the Mesa Verde National Park Visitor’s Center. The views of the mesa on your right for the rest of the drive are really neat, and you’ll be driving up there if you continue on into the park!
Things to do around Mesa Verde:
In addition to Mesa Verde National Park, there are quite a few other archaeological historic sites in this area that you can do as a side trip. The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is a road trip you can follow to get out and explore some of these places.
- Ute Mountain Tribal Park – The Ute people give their own guided tours of their land that include cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and other ancient ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan people. If you want to see some locations outside the National Park with native people as your guides, this could be worth going to see. They offer half and full day tours.
- The Anasazi Heritage Center – A little ways north of Cortez is this museum and visitor’s center for the Canyons of the Ancients. There are many exhibits on the Ancestral Puebloans, and even some outdoor ruins.
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument – This area is comprised of the largest amount of archaeological sites in the US! Over 6,000 sites have been identified. Check out Lowry Pueblo while you are here, as it’s the most developed out of all the ruins with 40 rooms and 8 kivas(circular religious meeting areas).
- Hovenweep National Monument – Located on the Utah/Colorado border, the word Hovenweep comes from a Ute word meaning “deserted valley”. This area now full of many ruins which you can visit was once occupied by over 2,500 at its peak! There’s a lot to do and see here so consider spending a full day.
- Yucca House National Monument – If you want to go for a bit of a drive exploring some dirt roads to reach a unexcavated site, then you may want to stop here. Yucca House is managed by the National Park service, however it’s outside of the main park boundaries, about 8 miles south of Cortez off of route 491.
- Crow Canyon Archaeological Center – Remember those childhood dreams of digging up dinosaur bones or ruins in your backyard? Well here you can go on an archaeology dig for the day! This place offers tours for viewing, or being more involved and working at a real excavation site with an archaeologist!
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