It's impossible to visit Mesa Verde Country without learning something new and interesting. Some find themselves interested in the process of how the ancient Puebloans built the dwellings that perch precariously on the canyon, while others are enchanted by the strange and mysterious petroglyphs that have been left behind by various tribes. As you explore the archaeological sites at Mesa Verde National Park, you'll learn a lot about these long-gone peoples... how they lived, where they came from, and more. You can even see how researchers have used clues left behind to put together the story of how the dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park came to be!
The best way to start your tour through the distant past of Mesa Verde Country is to get some background on the ancient Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi). The Anasazi Heritage Center is at the gateway to Canyons of the Ancients, and provides easy access to 12th-century archaeological sites, exhibits on how these ruins were excavated, an incredible collection of artifacts, and tons more.
To see how the influence of the past affects the culture in the region today, visit the Ute Mountain Indian Trading Company. This shop features a huge selection of Native crafts, from turquoise-studded jewelry to hand-woven rugs to intricately decorated pottery. The pieces here are unique and unlike anything you might find in the museum gift shops around town... and the prices are great, too.
Located 20-miles south of Cortez, CO at the Junction of Hwy. 160/491, Towaoc, CO, US
Sure, Mesa Verde National Park lets you explore archaeological sites on your own or with a park ranger, but a visit to the Ute Mountain Tribal Park comes with something even more special: a tour led by a Ute guide. You can't even get into the park without booking a tour in advance, and touring the sites with a guide who not only has an intimate knowledge of the places and their history but who feels a deep and spiritual connection with the park makes for a one-of-a-kind experience. You'll leave with a whole new perspective, and with a whole new respect, for ancient sites like Mesa Verde National Park.
If you're more interested in how researchers use these ancient ruins to learn about the past, then call Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and set up a time to take a tour. The facility is actually used to study the history of the Four Corners region, and the Center’s mission is to bring what researchers have learned, as well as their passion for archaeology, to the world. If you're looking for something even more in-depth, the Center puts on multi-day excursions to various sites across the Southwest, as well!
Of course, if you're looking to explore the archaeological side of Mesa Verde Country, you can't miss Mesa Verde National Park's Cliff Palace. The largest and most famous site in the park, it contains 200 rooms and 23 kivas inside a cave on the canyon. You'll have to get a ticket for a guided, ranger-led tour from the visitor center, but it's worth it. You'll learn about how, back when Cliff Palace was occupied, it had brightly painted walls, wooden beams, and housed tons of people.
The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is a must-visit while touring the park. Not only because it's the spot where you get tickets to guided tours of the sites, but also because it's incredibly informative. From a collection of artifacts found in the park, to displays about the descendants of the Anasazi, to modern art inspired by the story of the Ancient Puebloans, it's a great place to get a little context so you can fully appreciate just how incredible it is that you can visit the park.
After taking in so much information and doing so much exploring, a good night's sleep is probably in order. Willowtail Springs in Mancos rents out quiet little cabins, which are positioned around a serene pond. You'll get plenty of privacy, and the location is a little off-the-beaten-path, so you can really relax and enjoy the setting. The decor is rustic and charming, and it's generally a perfect place for some reflection and rejuvenation.
You can even find ancient influence in the most modern of cuisine. Local ingredients are combined with trendy flavors and techniques to delicious perfection at Olio, one of the most forward-thinking restaurants in the area. Elk tenderloin carpaccio, spiced and roasted pumpkin bisque, salads made with roasted local beets and local greens, Colorado rainbow trout, and more are among the offerings that combine traditional dishes with modern flair.
Alright, so exploring the ancient ruins of Mesa Verde Country isn't exactly like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, but it's still pretty awesome. Whether you want to know what life was like back when the Anasazi lived here, or you're just secretly harboring fantasies of accidentally stumbling upon an artifact that will unlock the secrets of the ancient Puebloans, digging into the archaeology of the region provides a fun and educational lens through which to explore!