Cortez, Colorado: Blending the Past & Present

Updated April 23, 2020

“The safety of our travelers is our highest priority, and while it’s not safe to travel during Colorado’s stay at home order, it is a good time to start planning your Colorado travel bucket list,” says Kelly Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of Mesa Verde Country. “We expect a lot of road trip travel when it’s safe to do so, and Mesa Verde is a great place to add to your list whether you are experiencing it for the first time or rediscovering our corner of Colorado. From cliff dwellings and culture to outdoor adventure and agritourism, you will find something in Mesa Verde Country to inspire and refresh you.”


I love road trips and I love Americana, and Cortez has more “Americana” architecture on Main Street than I’ve seen in any other Colorado town. From the Cork n’ Bottle liquor store to the Retro Inn, vintage signs are standard fare around town. It gives this part of Colorado a “Route 66” type of feel even though that famous road is well south of the area.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present, Fiesta Theater retro sign.

It had been years since Ryan and I visited the Mesa Verde area of Colorado. We weren’t sure what to expect when we sailed into the region earlier this month.

The Anasazi Heritage Center – A Must Stop

Our first official stop was the Anasazi Heritage Center, 15 minutes out of Cortez. I really like this museum because a walkthrough gives the visitor an easy to comprehend history lesson on the area. I encourage everyone to make this their first stop when visiting Mesa Verde Country.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Anasazi Heritage Center

And don’t miss the short, onsite trail that leads to the Escalante and Dominguez Ruins as well as providing an outstanding view of McPhee Reservoir and the surrounding area. It’s worth taking the quick walk to the top.

Here’s the lowdown on Mesa Verde Country. The Ancestral Pueblo lived in Southwest Colorado from approximately 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D. Without a doubt, the area is best known for Mesa Verde National Park, home to 4700 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings.

Hiking in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument in Mesa Verde Country. HeidiTown (8)
Just look up while hiking in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and you’ll probably spot something like this along the way.

The park is amazing and we toured it during our last visit. However, there are a lot of other places around the area to see ruins including Hovenweep and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. And the real bonus is that both of these places are a lot less crowded during high season and free.

RELATED: R is for Road Trip: Itinerary for Denver to Cortez, Colorado

Cortez, Mancos and Dolores are the towns of Mesa Verde Country. At a population of around 8,000, Cortez is the largest town of the group. While there have been a few changes in Cortez since last we visited, it’s the same quiet ranching community that it’s been for 131 years.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present, Cork n' Bottle retro sign.

Staying in Cortez

We were booked at The Retro Inn in downtown Cortez. I hope that more retro motels across the country will adapt The Retro Inn’s concept. The owners have taken an old motel and turned into an ode to the past, with modern amenities, of course.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Retro Inn.

Greeted by Elvis when they arrive, each room pays homage to a particular year. For instance, our room, Room 1977, features photographs of the disco age on the walls.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Retro Inn dining area.

A stay at the Retro Inn includes breakfast in their diner-style eating area. Rooms run around $100 during high season and $80 during the off-season (winter).

Eat & Drink in Cortez

Longtime HeidiTown readers won’t be surprised to learn that our first stop was the new brewery in town. Wild Edge Brewing Collective was only a few months old when we stopped in. We loved the light and bright, modern taproom and the beer was good too.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Wild Edge Brewing Collective.

During our stay in Cortez, we had great pizza at the Loungin’ Lizard and a delicious (and cheap) Mexican brunch at La Casita, which tasted even better after a morning hike in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Pizza Loungin' Lizard.

Unfortunately, we didn’t eat at The Farm Bistro because they are open Monday through Friday only and our timing was bad, but this farm-to-table restaurant is well-loved by locals.

Don’t miss Moose & More, when you visit Cortez. Featuring ice cream and chocolates handmade by local owners, what’s not to love?

Things to do in Cortez

From June through September 2, each evening at 7 p.m., there are Native American Dances that take place outside at the Cortez Cultural Center in downtown. I highly recommend stopping to enjoy these beautiful and free demonstrations of Native American culture. They occur every day except for Sunday.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Native American Dancer.

As Ryan and I thought we were wrapping up our second evening in Cortez, we walked by the Millennium Center for the Performing Arts. We could hear Latin music and through the window, we saw dancing. We inquired and discovered that it was Latin Dance Night.

I’ve never written about it, but Ryan and I have taken quite a number of dance classes over the years, so we danced. It was a wonderful way to meet locals and it turned into a travel memory that we will both treasure. These public dances at the Millennium Center occur on Saturdays and the theme is either Latin or Country Western. A short lesson comes with the $12 entry fee.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Dance Night at Millennium Center.
I left my Canon in the hotel room, so I snapped a couple of phone photos on dance night.

Watch for my next post on Mesa Verde Country, “Take Road G to Wine Paradise.”


Thank you to Mesa Verde Country for hosting us on our Southwest Colorado adventures.




  1. There are SO many amazing pieces to Cortez that people don’t know about in addition to the historical aspect. Cortez is home to a company of artisans who build Off Road racing vehicles that are respected and sought after world wide, and even many locals don’t know about it! A visit to Jimmys 4 X 4 shop will knock your socks off!


    1. Wow, that’s pretty cool info, Marie. Thanks so much! I think a lot of little towns have hidden businesses like that. I know a little town in Northern Colorado that’s home to a car refurbish guy who works on Jay Leno’s cars!

      Thanks for stopping by HeidiTown!


  2. Thank you Heiditown for all the good information! We are loving our Cortez visit!


    1. I am so glad. People often don’t pass Durango (a town I love) and they should get down to Cortez more often. It’s a fascinating part of Colorado.


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