Your journey begins in Durango, where you can explore the historic center of a town known for its western flair and hospitality. A visit to the Toh-Atin Gallery introduces you to Native American and Southwestern art. Just a few miles outside Durango, you can explore the Southern Ute Cultural Center, to begin learning about the ancient Native Americans who lived in the area.  Historic accommodations place you right in the historic district and dinner recommendations let you enjoy the finest farm to table dining in the area. On Day Two, you’ll be heading for Cortez, for a further introduction to the ancient cultures at the Cortez Cultural Center and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. Cortez is also the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park, the largest ancestral pueblo in the world where you can explore the homes and lives of the ancients up close and personal. Grab a bite to eat in Cortez or have lunch in either of the cafes in Mesa Verde. Plan to spend the entire afternoon at the Cliff Dwellings, Mesa Verde Visitor Center, the Far View sites, Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and more. Day Three will be spent driving a circle tour of the Colorado portion of the Trail of the Ancients. Leaving Mesa Verde National Park, you’ll travel up to Dolores, location of the Anasazi Heritage Center.  From there, a visit to the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument will let you explore Lowry Pueblo, built about 1060 A.D. It’s smaller than Mesa Verde, but no less impressive.  Continuing around the loop, a stop at Hovenweep takes you to a location inhabited for more than 10,000 years. More extensive settlement began around 900 A.D. and the area ultimately became home to over 2,500 residents.   As you complete the circle drive, you can either go back to Durango for the evening or proceed to another destination in the area.

Highlighted Attractions

Cliff Dwellings, Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Long House

Grab your sense of adventure as you go up and down ladders and through the tight spaces of Cliff Palace constructed with sophisticated building techniques to create a culturally cohesive community. The 150 rooms and 23 kivas (ceremonial rooms) and had a population of about 100. Of the nearly 600 cliff dwellings in the park, 75% are made up of 1-5 rooms each. Cliff Palace is an exceptionally large dwelling that housed administrative spaces and ceremonies. Balcony House features with 40 rooms revealing how rooms and passageways were constructed over time. The tunnel, passageways, and modern 32-foot entrance ladder make this the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour in the park.

Canyon on The Ancients National Monument

Encompassing 164,000 acres of high desert, the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument has the highest density of archeological sites in the United States, with more than 6,000 recorded sites and thousands more not yet studied. 

Cutthroat Castle

The Cutthroat Castle area was documented in 1929 but not added to Hovenweep until 1956. Intended to connect with the world below and the world above, the floor of each kiva is built below ground level to relate to the world below. The entrance to a kiva is typically through the roof to relate to the world above. Access to Cutthroat Castle Kiva is from below the boulder on which the kiva is built. Though it may appear isolated, the ancestral Puebloan population at Cutthroat Castle was quite large with a number of kivas important in the Puebloan religion located downstream.

Anasazi Heritage Center

The Anasazi Heritage Center features the culture of the Ancient ones who lived in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. Here, you can weave cloth, grind corn and use tools of the ancient dwellers, plus tour two 12th century pueblos named after the Spanish Franciscan friars who came to Colorado seeking a shortcut to California. The Escalante Pueblo illustrates three major periods of settlements that have taken place in the area.

The Toh-Atin Gallery

The Toh-Atin Gallery is one of the most respected sources of Navajo rugs and weavings, Pueblo jewelry, pottery, Hopi Kachinas, Native American baskets and Indian and Southwestern arts in Colorado.

Southern Ute Cultural Center

A bit outside of Durango, in the opposite direction from the remainder of your trip, the Southern Ute Cultural Center illustrates exceptional architecture that incorporates cultural symbolism and a connection to the land. Inside, memories and history celebrate the Ute people. You’ll first encounter plants important to native subsistence. Once inside, you’ll be awed by Ponderosa pines rising 60 feet like a tipi, ending in a Circle of Life glass ceiling. The Permanent Gallery chronicles the story of the Ute people from prehistoric times to today. Photographic panels, audio-visual presentations, interactive electronics and life-size replicas enhance six themes in Ute life. 

Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum

The 1922 Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum is a historic landmark, which replaced a 1917 log cabin. The museum was constructed using Cliff House Sandstone, the same type of rock used by the Ancestral Pueblo. A series of dioramas illustrate Ancestral Pueblo life with prehistoric artifacts and a chronology of Ancestral Pueblo culture. The 25-minute film provides an excellent overview of the history of Mesa Verde.

Cortez Cultural Center – Hawkins Preserve

The Hawkins Preserve has been home to ancient cultures since 900 A.D. The entire 122 acres was put into protected status to protect the treasured archaeological resources from the Pueblo I and Pueblo II periods. were put into protected status. Hawkins is also home to a gallery featuring local artists and holds Native American dance performances nightly through the summer. An ADA accessible concrete trail traverses the northern reaches of the Preserve, while single track dirt paths lead to archaeological ruins and Dakota sandstone cliffs.

To experience all that Walking in the Footsteps of the Ancients has to offer, download the complete itinerary! 

The detailed itinerary includes: