Suggested Itinerary: Native American Lifeways

Total Number of Days/Nights: 5

Special Dates for This Itinerary
Mesa Verde Country® Indian Arts and Culture Festival
Mesa Verde, 970-565-8227, last weekend of May through first week of June.

Travel Southwestern Colorado, rich with Native American Culture and History. Home of Mesa Verde National Park, Chimney Rock and the Ute Council Tree Pow Wow:

  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Council Tree Pow Wow
  • Ft Uncompahgre
  • Chimney Rock
  • Anasazi Heritage Center
  • Pit Houses & Dwellings
  • Ute Indian Museum
  • Hot Springs
  • Spectacular San Juan Mountains
  • Rock Art
  • Festivals
  • Chipeta and Ouray

    The Native American Lifeways itinerary is located in Southwestern Colorado. It is a route that may start at either end or it is possible to enjoy just a segment of the journey. Air access is possible through the towns of Cortez, Durango, Grand Junction, and Montrose, all with connecting flights through DIA. Car or coach from either Albuquerque, NM (4 hours/261 miles/420 kilometers) on NM highways 150 and 64, and CO highway 160/491 brings you to the Southwest Corner of Colorado to begin in Cortez, CO, or access from Denver, CO (8 hours/458 miles/737 kilometers) on I25 to Grand Junction, CO 50 to Delta County begins the route there.

    This itinerary will start with the Cortez access, but it could be picked up at any day along the way and followed in a different sequence. As an added bonus, this route is especially interesting during the Council Tree Pow Wow Native American Festival held in the fall, or the Indian Arts and Culture Festival held at Mesa Verde in the spring.
  • Day One: Arrive Cortez, CO

    Plan to arrive early enough to enjoy a few hours at the Anasazi Heritage Center, an archaeological museum and the headquarters for the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (10 miles/16 kilometers north of Cortez on Highways 145 and 184.) The Heritage Center includes archaeological exhibits, hands-on activities, special exhibits and events, a video, and two small archaeological sites, one accessed by an interpretative nature walk. Return to Cortez. Visit the Cortez Cultural Center in the evening for free Indian Dances and Cultural Programs (during the summer months.) Enjoy some of the local southwestern cuisine.

    Day Two: Mesa Verde National Park, CO

    (9 miles/14.5 kilometers East of Cortez to entrance)

    Visit the spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages in this world-renowned National Park. Mesa Verde, a World Heritage Site, has been voted #1 Historic Monument in the World. Ranger-guided, self-guided, and half-day guided tours are available in the park. Enjoy dinner in the park at the famous Metate Room with views that will take your breath away.

    Day Three: Head to the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area

    (From Cortez take Highway 160 East to Durango, CO and then continue on 160 toward Pagosa Springs, CO 86 miles, 138 kilometers to the Chimney Rock turn off. Chimney Rock is one-half mile off Highway 151, 3 miles, 5 kilometers south of Highway 160)


    From mid May to the end of September, take a trip back in time as you enjoy a guided tour and learn about the culture of the Ancestral Puebloans. This site was home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians 1,000 years ago, and is of great spiritual significance to these tribes. Over 200 homes and ceremonial buildings are found high above the valley floor, probably to be near the sacred twin rock pinnacles. The next three years are Major Lunar Standstill season at the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area. This spectacular sight, which occurs on a regular cycle every 18.6 years, is believed to have influenced construction of the Chacoan-style Great House atop Chimney Rock's high mesa.

    Return to Highway 160 and travel on to Pagosa Springs (16 miles, 26 kilometers). "Pagosa" is a Ute Indian word meaning healing waters. The hot mineral springs here are renowned for their healing qualities. Give them a try.

    Day Four: Depart for Montrose, CO driving thru the same country once traveled by Ute Chief Ouray

    (Continue on Highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass and into South Fork. From South Fork take Highway 149 to Highway 50, and then Highway 50 into Montrose. The part of Highway 149 from South Fork to Lake City is a scenic byway — 244 miles, 393 kilometers for the entire route.)

    Take time along the way to check out Creede and Lake City as you travel the Silver Thread Scenic Byway. The meadows and mountains that surround you on this drive were once the hunting grounds for the Ute Tribes. After arriving in Montrose, head a short distance south, on Hwy 50 to the Ute Indian Museum, one of the few museums in the country devoted solely to one tribe. The Ute People were the indigenous inhabitants of western Colorado and the museum commemorates their life and culture. It is located on the farm that once belonged to the famous Ute leader, Ouray, and his wife, Chipeta. The grounds include the Ouray Memorial and the grave of Chipeta.

    Day Five: Depart Montrose for Delta

    (21 miles/35 kilometers)

    Spend a leisurely morning in Montrose and then head for Delta. Discover the Ute Council Tree. This historic cottonwood tree (Poplus deltoides) was designated a Colorado Landmark and is marked by a plaque by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The tree was dedicated in memory of Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta, of the Ute Indian tribe. There he and his braves met with white settlers to smoke the pipe of peace and settle their differences. Chipeta was said to have been the only Indian woman ever permitted to sit in council meetings. Venture into the frontier at Fort Uncompahgre in Delta on a site where Ute Indians and trappers once traded. Throughout the summer stroll back in time as the Fort's Mountain Man takes you on an interpretive tour of the Fort and its lifestyle.