Serenity in the Southwest

  • Start: Cortez, CO
  • End: Montrose, CO
  • Last Modified: 2011-09-20 16:51:54
  • Total Mileage: 231 Miles
  • Number of stops: 23


Even city slickers relax on this drive through Wild West country. The journey begins at massive Mesa Verde, continuing east and north on quiet roads past undulating hills, fields of tiny wildflowers, and the occasional brown velvet deer. Ice climbing, mountain jeep tours, and hiking introduce travelers to the lush but demanding landscape, while lazy soaks in the area's natural hot springs soothe sore muscles. In 1888, two cowboys in search of stray cattle stumbled on an unexpected sight: an elaborate structure carved out of the cliffs of Mesa Verde and looking, they said, like a "magnificent city." They called it Cliff Palace. More than 100 years later, it and the dozens of other accessible archaeological sites on the mesa continue to inspire and challenge visitors. On tours of the cliff dwellings--built in the late 1200s by the people now known as Ancestral Puebloans--you'll scramble up and down ladders, hike steep slopes, and even clamber through a narrow passage on hands and knees. The beautiful, well-maintained sites are worth the effort, however; some visitors find themselves choked up at the stark grandeur. For a much less physically demanding experience, drive the Mesa Top Loop Road to see the pit houses and pueblos where the Ancestral Puebloans lived for hundreds of years before building the cliff dwellings. The road also features a number of overlooks for viewing the dwellings from afar. In the mood for an end-of-day splurge? Stop for dinner at the park's Metate Room, an upscale restaurant offering exotic dishes such as barbecued quail and hickory-smoked buffalo ribeye. On clear nights, starry skies sparkle above the rooftop bar. A short drive from the mesa lies the Cortez Cultural Center, which offers a host of free programs year-round. Six nights a week during the summer, visitors can enjoy Native American dance, music, and drama in the outdoor performance space while munching on freshly made fry bread (a local treat) drenched in honey. Past offerings have included "Black Shawl," a one-woman play about Sarah Mara-Boots, a Navajo woman who married a Mormon pioneer. Don't forget to check out the side of the building itself; it's painted with three-dimensional effects to resemble a cliff dwelling like the ones nearby. In nearby Mancos, Bartels' Mancos Valley Stage Line shows a different side of the Old West. In the 1800s, passengers paid $200 to ride a stagecoach 18 hours a day, 24 days straight. These days the ride costs a lot less, lunch or dinner is available, and there aren't any bandits lurking. The seat up top affords the best view, and owner Eric Bartels, who has appeared with his horses in the movie The Missing, might even let you hold the reins. It's a short but scenic drive from Mancos to Durango, where dining and shopping await on bustling Main Avenue. For something more offbeat than the usual t-shirts-and-postcards souvenirs, check out Dancing Willow Herbs, a small, aromatic shop offering its own line of medicinal teas, essential oils, salves, and body care products. The staff can advise customers on herbal tinctures for nearly any ailment, from bleeding gums to insomnia. Down the street, Carver Brewing Company makes its own microbrews along with an excellent dark root beer. The pub also offers hearty food of the chicken-stew and mashed-potatoes ilk. An easy 15-minute drive out of town leads to the Bar D, where a singing cowboy show follows a chuck wagon dinner of barbecue, homemade biscuits, and baked beans. Between songs, the Bar D Wranglers tell "Western fairy tales"--instead of "Once upon a time," they start with "Y'all ain't never gonna believe this!" An after-dinner option: the Diamond Circle Melodrama and Vaudeville. The Diamond Circle troupe has revived the melodrama tradition by staging performances of shows written in the 1800s. Sing along with the piano player! Boo the villain! Cheer the hero! It's all enjoyably implausible, over-the-top campy, and a whole lot of fun.

Stop #1:

Cortez Cultural Center
Cortez, CO

Stop #2:

Metate Room, Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde, CO

Stop #3:

Cliff Palace
Colorado, United States of America

Stop #4:

Bartels' Mancos Valley Stage Line
Mancos, CO

Stop #5:

Durango--Silverton Railroad
Durango, CO

Stop #7:

Dancing Willow Herbs
Durango, CO

Stop #8:

Carver Brewing Company
Durango, CO

Stop #9:

Bar D Chuckwagon Suppers
Durango, CO

Stop #10:

Weathertop Wovens
Silverton, CO

Stop #11:

Mad Mamas' Pies
Silverton, CO

Stop #12:

San Juan Backcountry
Silverton, CO

Stop #13:

Buen Tiempo Mexican Restaurant
Ouray, CO

Stop #14:

Mouse's Chocolates
Ouray, CO

Stop #16:

Orvis Hot Springs
Ridgway, CO

Stop #17:

Chipeta Sun Lodge and Spa
Ridgway, CO

Stop #18:

True Grit Cafe
Ridgway, CO

Stop #19:

Telluride Historical Museum
Telluride, CO

Stop #20:

Dave's Mountain Tours
Telluride, CO

Stop #21:

Baked in Telluride
Telluride, CO

Stop #22:

Hell Bent Leather and Silver
Telluride, CO

Stop #23:

Ute Indian Museum
Montrose, CO

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