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Cortez, Colorado: Blending the Past & Present

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. HeidiTown.com

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 HeidiTown.com

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, but the fact is that 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.

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

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

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. HeidiTown.com

Elvis greets guests as they arrive and each room at the inn is dedicated to a particular year in history. 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. HeidiTown.com

A stay at the Retro Inn includes a nice 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 tap room and the beer was good too.

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

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. HeidiTown.com

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. HeidiTown.com

As Ryan and I thought we were wrapping up our second evening in Cortez, we happened to walk by the Millennium Center for the Performing Arts, just a few doors down from Loungin’ Lizard. 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, including Latin, and 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 in Cortez at the Millennium Center occur on Saturdays and the theme is either Latin or Country Western. A short lesson is included in the $12 entry fee.

Cortez, Colorado, Blending the Past & Present. Dance Night at Millennium Center. HeidiTown.com

I left my Canon in the hotel room, so I snapped a couple phone photos on dance night.

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

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

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2 Responses to Cortez, Colorado: Blending the Past & Present

  • 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!

    • 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!

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