Cortez Cultural Center

The Cortez Cultural Center, 25 N. Market St., Cortez (tel. 970/565-1151; www.cortezculturalcenter.org), includes a museum with exhibits on both prehistoric and modern American Indians, an art gallery with displays of regional art, a good gift shop offering crafts by local tribal members, and a variety of programs including American Indian dances during the summer. From June through August, the center is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and the rest of the year it is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free and you should plan to spend at least an hour. Call or check the website for the schedule of Indian dances and other programs, which are also free.

Ute Mountain Tribal Park

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If you liked Mesa Verde but would have enjoyed it more without the company of so many fellow tourists, you'll love the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, P.O. Box 109, Towaoc, CO 81334 (tel. 800/847-5485 or 970/565-3751 ext. 330; www.utemountainute.com/tribalpark.htm). Set aside by the Ute Mountain tribe to preserve its heritage, the 125,000-acre park -- which abuts Mesa Verde National Park -- includes ancient pictographs and petroglyphs as well as hundreds of surface sites and cliff dwellings that are similar in size and complexity to those in Mesa Verde.

Access to the park is strictly limited to guided tours. Full- and half-day tours begin at the Ute Mountain Museum and Visitor Center at the junction of U.S. 491 and U.S. 160, 20 miles south of Cortez. Mountain-biking and backpacking trips are also offered. No food, water, lodging, gasoline, or other services are available within the park. Some climbing of ladders is necessary on the full-day tour. There's one primitive campground ($12 per vehicle; reservations required).

Charges for tours in your vehicle start at $24 per person for a half-day, $44 for a full day; it's $9 per person extra to go in the tour guide's vehicle, and reservations are required.

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Anasazi Heritage Center

When the Dolores River was dammed and the McPhee Reservoir was created in 1985, some 1,600 ancient archaeological sites were threatened. Four percent of the project costs were set aside for archaeological work, and over two million artifacts and other prehistoric items were rescued. Most are displayed in this museum. Located 10 miles north of Cortez, it is set into a hillside near the remains of 12th-century sites.

Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the Anasazi Heritage Center emphasizes visitor involvement. Children and adults are invited to examine corn-grinding implements, a loom and other weaving materials, and a re-created pit house. You can touch artifacts 1,000 to 2,000 years old, examine samples through microscopes, use interactive computer programs, and engage in video lessons in archaeological techniques.

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A half-mile trail leads from the museum to the Dominguez Pueblo Ruins, atop a low hill, with a beautiful view across the Montezuma Valley.

The center also serves as the visitor center for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument . It is located at 27501 Colo. 184, Dolores (tel. 970/882-5600; www.co.blm.gov/ahc). It's open March through October daily from 9am to 5pm; November through February daily from 10am to 4pm; and closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. An admission fee of $3 for adults is charged March through October only; admission is free for those 17 and under. Allow 2 hours.

What's in a Name? -- The prehistoric inhabitants of the ancient villages of the Four Corners region have long been known as the Anasazi. That word is being phased out, however, in favor of "Ancestral Puebloans" or "ancient Pueblo people," because modern American Indians who trace their roots to the Ancestral Puebloans consider the word Anasazi demeaning. "Anasazi" is a Navajo word meaning "enemy of my people," as the Navajos considered the Ancestral Puebloans their enemies.

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Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Among the country's newest national monuments, Canyons of the Ancients was created by presidential proclamation in June 2000. The 164,000-acre national monument, located west of Cortez, contains thousands of archaeological sites -- what some claim is the highest density of archaeological sites in the United States -- including the remains of villages, cliff dwellings, sweat lodges, and petroglyphs at least 700 years old, and possibly as much as 10,000 years old.

Canyons of the Ancients includes Lowry Pueblo, an excavated 12th-century village that is located 26 miles from Cortez via U.S. 491, on C.R. CC, 9 miles west of Pleasant View. This pueblo, which was likely abandoned by 1200, is believed to have housed about 100 people. It has standing walls from 40 rooms plus 9 kivas (circular underground ceremonial chambers). A short, self-guided interpretive trail leads past a kiva and continues to the remains of a great kiva, which, at 54 feet in diameter, is among the largest ever found. There are also a picnic area, drinking water, and toilets.

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Canyons of the Ancients is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and as yet has no on-site visitor center or even a contact station. Those wishing to explore the monument are strongly advised to contact or, preferably, stop first at the visitor center located at Anasazi Heritage Center for information, especially current road conditions and directions. Information is also available online at www.co.blm.gov/canm and from the Welcome Center in Cortez. Allow at least 2 hours.

Hovenweep National Monument

Preserving some of the most striking and isolated archaeological sites in the Four Corners area, this national monument straddles the Colorado-Utah border, 40 miles west of Cortez.

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Hovenweep is the Ute word for "deserted valley," appropriate because its inhabitants apparently left around 1300. The monument contains six separate sites and is noted for mysterious 20-foot-high sandstone towers, some square, others oval, circular, or D-shaped. Archaeologists have suggested possible functions: everything from guard or signal towers, celestial observatories, and ceremonial structures to water towers or granaries.

A ranger station, with exhibits, restrooms, and drinking water, is located at the Square Tower Site, in the Utah section of the monument, the most impressive and best preserved of the sites. The Hovenweep Campground, with 30 sites, is open year-round. Sites are fairly small -- most appropriate for tents or small pickup truck campers -- but a few sites can accommodate RVs up to 25 feet long. The campground has flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, and fire pits, but no showers or RV hookups. Cost is $10 per night; reservations are not accepted, but the campground rarely fills.

From Cortez, take U.S. 160 south to C.R. G (McElmo Canyon Rd.) and follow signs into Utah and the monument. The other five sites are difficult to find, and you'll need to obtain detailed driving directions and check on current road conditions before setting out. Summer temperatures can reach over 100°F (38°C), and water supplies are limited -- so take your own and carry a canteen, even on short walks. Bug repellent is advised, as gnats can be a nuisance in late spring.

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The visitor center/ranger station is open daily from 8am to 6pm from April through September and 8am to 5pm the rest of the year; it's closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Trails are open from sunrise to sunset. Admission for up to a week costs $6 per vehicle or $3 per person on bike or foot. For advance information, contact Hovenweep National Monument, McElmo Route, Cortez, CO 81321 (tel. 970/562-4282; www.nps.gov/hove).

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center focuses on the rich history of the Anasazi. Crow Canyon's campus-based programs allow visitors to participate in actual research in both the field and laboratory. Offerings open to the public include digs with pro archaeologists, family programs that cover a gamut of archaeological skills, and summer camps for teens. Programs have been developed with help from American Indians.

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Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, located just a few miles north of Cortez at 23390 Rd. K, is based out of a 170-acre campus (complete with labs, classrooms, a dormitory, and 10 rustic cabins inspired by Navajo hogans); classes range from a $50 day tour to programs that last a week or more starting at about $1,000 a student. Contact the Center (tel. 800/422-8975 or 970/565-8975; www.crowcanyon.org), for a course catalog or other information.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.