Located in the Southwest corner of Colorado, Cortez is placed between glorious deserts and majestic mountains. Cortez also serves as the gateway to the incomparable Mesa Verde National Park. Here, in the archaeological heartland of the United States, vast cultural resources and outdoor recreation opportunities await your discovery.
If you're planning a visit to our area, stop by the Colorado Welcome Center, located at 928 East Main in City Park.
The Welcome Center can provide you with all types of information to make your stay in our community more enjoyable.
Hiking, biking, fishing, boating, rafting, golf, horseback riding, hunting, skiing, and snowmobiling are just some of the popular sports in the Cortez area. With our incredible climate, many recreational activities are available year round, and our location makes it possible to cross country ski in the mountains on a winter's morning, and hike in our warm red-rock canyons on a winter's afternoon.
Whether on foot or on horseback, on two wheels or four, on land or on water, in snow or in sun, the exceptional landscapes of Mesa Verde beckon you to create your own outdoor adventure.
Cortez, the archaeological center of America, is the largest community near Mesa Verde National Park and offers the most services for visitors. The town is nestled between the majestic La Plata Mountains, the brooding Sleeping Ute Mountain, and the sharp-hewn silhouette of Mesa Verde.
The Navajos called Cortez Tsaya-toh, meaning "rock water." The spring that once provided water for Navajo sheep also attracted ranchers to the area, then known as Mitchell Springs. The name of the town was changed when Cortez was founded in 1886 and moved a short distance north to the present day town site. Ranching and farming became the economic mainstay of Cortez, and the town also became a major trading center for Native Americans.
Today you may still catch a cattle drive in the spring or fall, or join in the Ute Mountain Rodeo every June. Junior Rodeo events are held at the Fairgrounds throughout the year and the Montezuma County Fair, held each August, is a showcase for the farming and ranching life that is still very much a part of the community. Navajos and Utes continue to come to Cortez as they did in the late 1880s and their artwork may be found in the many quality trading posts throughout Cortez. In the summer Indian Dances and cultural programs are offered six nights a week at the Cortez Cultural Center, and many community events are held throughout the season.
The community's historic roots go back to the ranching, farming and timber industries that began in the Mancos Valley in the 1870s. In time, ranching became the dominant economic force in the area, and that still holds true today. Cattle drives through the middle of town are a regular part of the spring and fall tradition, and a Farmer's Market is held every Thursday afternoon late spring to early fall.
The Mancos Valley is the home of the Wetherill family. The Wetherills helped settle the Mancos Valley, set up a number of trading posts and are credited with some of the earliest explorations of the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. That "rediscovery" triggered a series of events and explorations that eventually led to the establishment of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906.
After the Denver, Rio Grande & Southern Railway came through town in 1891 Mancos' role as the staging point for archaeological expeditions to Mesa Verde became obvious: it was the last stop on the railroad before Mesa Verde so it was a logical place to rest and purchase supplies before riding by horseback up to the park.
Today Mancos offers the traveler history, breathing space, and outdoor adventure. Start with a visit to the Mancos Visitor's Center and Pioneer Museum located at the corner of US 160 & Main Street. The Visitor's Center has information about accommodations, recreational activities, historic walking tour, and a museum on local history, including more about the Wetherill Family and the Louie L'Amour legacy.
Located just six miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, Mancos is a great location to stage your own expedition. Stay at one of Mancos' family-owned inns, B & B's, or motels where personal customer service and comfort still can be found. Or camp at Mancos State Park, or one of the other many campgrounds throughout the San Juan National Forest.
From Mancos you can explore the fantastic cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, or spend a day in Durango and ride the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Ski under the full moon at Chicken Creek Cross Country Ski Area, or spend a day catching those legendary Rocky Mountain Rainbow Trout at Mancos State Park (Jackson Gulch Reservoir). Hook up with a local outfitter for a trail ride and campfire dinner in the high country, or take a stagecoach ride down Weber Canyon! If dining in town is more your style, Mancos has several great restaurants to choose from, offering a wide variety of choices including pizza, prime rib, Mexican fare and great baked goods. You'll often find live music happening at several of these locations.
Dolores is home to McPhee Lake, the second largest body of water in Colorado, offering a variety of boating and recreational activities. The San Juan/Rio Grande National Forest, at Dolores' doorstep, offers great outdoor activities, including camping, hiking, hunting, and winter sports. The Dolores River and McPhee lake offer great fishing, and the Dolores River provides opportunities for kayaking and rafting.
Dolores is also home to the Anasazi Heritage Center, a unique federal museum, research center and curation facility, and headquarters for the new Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The town of Dolores lies on the San Juan Skyway, a state and federally designated scenic by-way, called "America's Most Beautiful Drive." Annual celebrations in Dolores include Escalante Day in August and Christmas in Dolores during December.
Ute Mountain Ute Reservation
The Ute Mountain Utes enjoy a modern lifestyle while retaining their traditional customs. They are established artisans known for their superlative beadwork and unique pottery and their work may be found in trading posts throughout the area.
Located on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation is the Ute Tribal Park, with both Ancestral Puebloan and Ute rock art and structures. Another attraction is the Ute Mountain Ute Pottery Factory, where Ute artisans create paintings on authentic, handmade pottery. The Tribe also operates a casino, RV Park and Campground, truck stop, and restaurant. Special events are held at the Casino and nearby Indian Village and the Bear Dance is held in Towaoc each June.