This southern Colorado town located near the Four Corners was named after the famous Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez; the man who led the expedition that led to the fall of the Aztec Empire. Perhaps it is ironic then that Cortez and the surrounding area are a hot-spot of prehistoric and Native American history. Established in 1886 to provide housing for men working on the tunnels and irrigation ditches diverting water from the Dolores River to the Montezuma Valley, Cortez today is one of America's richest archaeological centers. The world-famous cliff-dwellings of Mesa Verde and the Ute Valley Mountain Tribal Park place the town in the center of the area's rich Native history. The Ancestral Puebloans, sometimes called the Anasazi, made their dwellings, called pueblos, in the area in which Cortez now stands sometime after 650 AD. It was here that they lived, hunted, gathered and farmed until the 13th century, when drought and other environmental factors caused the Puebloans to vacate the area. They left behind several sites in the Cortez area that are now popular spots for tourists. In fact, tourism is the central industry in this town of 8,482. Obvious tourist hot-spots like Mesa Verde National Park and the Four Corners aside, there are numerous lesser known locations and hidden gems in Cortez!
If you're looking for authentic Native American art, jewelry and other crafts, look no further than the Notah-Dineh Trading Company. Established in 1961 with the belief that "great Native American art endures and passes from one generation to the next, telling the history of the area and the people who were here before us," Notah-Dineh is committed to preserving the tradition of American Indian artists. Here you'll find handmade Navajo rugs, kachinas, sand paintings, bead work, moccasins, sculpture, baskets and more. Their variety of Pueblo pottery is impressive, from the tiniest of miniatures to detailed showpieces. In the museum, visitors can marvel at the extensive collection of American Indian art and artifacts, from vintage cradle-boards to ceremonial clothing and huge antique rugs. The collection also features relics of the Old West, including fringed dresses and historic firearms. Entrance to the museum is free, and is something the whole family can enjoy!
Phil's World, located just outside Cortez, was built by and for mountain bikers and has become one of Colorado's most popular mountain biking locations. It offers 60 miles of mind-blowing mountain bike trails for all skill levels, from beginners to experts. The steep, winding desert terrain provides those who bike it with amazing views of Sleeping Ute, La Plata, and Mesa Verde mountains. It is also home to an endurance mountain bike race called 12 Hours of Mesa Verde. Over 900 riders pedal from dawn to dusk in this annual event, which takes place in early May.
Cortez's rich American Indian history and culture is preserved and celebrated at the Cortez Cultural Center, where free Native American dances take place 6 nights a week during the summer. Get a glimpse of the history and vibrancy of Native culture and tradition as the dancers weave their stories of past and present through music and movement. Learn about their traditions in the peaceful and extraordinary setting of the amphitheater at the Cortez Cultural Center. The goal of the Center is to increase cultural understanding, promote the arts, and educate visitors about history, diversity and the natural environment. A gallery on the main floor features local artists; the Center also hosts evening art classes throughout the year.
In early August, locals and visitors to Cortez enjoy the George Greer Memorial Car show. This annual event is hosted by the local chapter of the Blue Star Moms, a group of mothers with children in the military. The car show is named in honor of George Geer, a Montezuma County solider who lost his life in Iraq in 2005. Proceeds from this all day event benefit veterans and their families. Held in Cortez's Centennial Park, the show features classic cars and hot rods of all shapes and sizes for the public to enjoy; as well as games and activities for the whole family. A Burnout Contest has attracted much attention in previous years, with contestants competing to see whose vehicle can produce the most smoke. Unique awards, like the "Most Likely to Get a Ticket Award," are also handed out to entrants each year.
This establishment is well-loved by locals and visitors alike! Serving up fresh Mexican dishes in heaping portions, La Casita de Cortez is the top-rated restaurant on Yelp and Tripadvisor: receiving a Certificate of Excellence for four years straight. Start your meal with complimentary salsa and bean dip paired with house-fried tortilla chips and a pitcher of margaritas from the full-service bar. Try La Casita's popular chicken mole enchiladas for your main course, or dig into one of the many vegetarian options on the menu. If you still have room, enjoy some Flan for dessert, which has been called "out of this world" by reviewers. You'll be glad you stopped by!
In the mood for some Thai? You're in luck! Just as the name promises, Thai Cortez & Sushi offers highly rated Thai cuisine and sushi options in an unassuming little outpost on Main Street Cortez. Enjoy staples like Pad Thai and Tom Yum Soup alongside a variety of curries and Vietnamese Pho. You can also sit at the sushi bar and enjoy a feast of delicious sashimi and specialty maki rolls. Thai Cortez is known for their beautiful presentation, so be sure to snap a photo of your meal to brag to your friends!