Many people visit Cortez because of its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park (Read more about the park on page 55), but also nearby is the 176,000-acre Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. With the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, it is just 10 miles west of Cortez and is a real undiscovered gem.
As for Cortez itself, there are of course places to get a good beer (WildEdge Brewing Collective; J. Fargo's Family Dining & Micro Brewery; and Main Street Brewery & Restaurant), as well as plenty of options for coffee and casual dining on Main Street
About 15 miles west of town is Sutcliffe Vineyards. With multiple 90 point reviews, Sutcliffe has been named one of the top 500 producers in the U.S. The tasting room is a great place to visit for a few hours of serenity in a beautiful setting. Open year round between 12 pm – 5 pm daily, a four-wine tasting costs $10 per person.
There are two golf courses in the area and Notah-Dineh, a trading company that works closely with Native American artists to offer unique pieces including handmade Navajo rugs, kachinas, sandpaintings, cradle boards and moccasins.
Driving around Cortez is particularly beautiful. Consider driving on the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway and the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway if you can ( page 30).
If you aren't staying at Far View Lodge inside Mesa Verde or camping there, or at the Canyons of the Ancients, the Retro Inn at Mesa Verde on Main Street is a quirky option.
The Danny DeVito to Durango's Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silverton is a fantastic little mountain town and sits, very conveniently, at the end of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It's pretty small too with an area of less than one square mile and a population of around 600. It is also one of the highest towns in the United States at 9,318 feet.
Silverton is also a National Historic Landmark - the whole town, that is - and part of the amazing San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway (for more info on Scenic Byways, see page 30). It is also a popular jumping off point for recreational activities, including rafting, backcountry touring, jeeping, ATV and OHV riding as well as fishing, hiking, biking, rafting, horseback riding and camping.
When you finally dismount your steed, whatever it may be, you will need to be fed and watered. Handlebars is a no frills Western-themed eatery with elk and buffalo on the menu, and there are two breweries in town (Avalanche and Golden Block) to help you quench your thirst. There are also three soaking pools at Shangri-La Soaking Pools (located inside Smedley's Suites). As for where to stay, Silverton has more than 30 lodging options.
If you take trip from Durango during your visit, make it Silverton and make sure to at least arrive or leave by train.
As fantastic as Durango is, there are some other interesting and amazing places and towns nearby. If you have enough time, consider spending a day or so traveling to see some nearby attractions.
Photo: Matthew Inden / Miles