Interest in Four Corners region tourism has increased dramatically in recent years and there is a good reason why. The Four Corners region is where the high desert meets the high mesas and mountains, so this majestic landscape easily captivates all that pass through. The Four Corners region is where ancient native culture meets the modern world and there are thousands of ancient pueblos in this area that are waiting to be experienced. This is a place where wild horses roam free and birds of prey soar high in the sky. There are endless interesting things to do where the four big states with square corners meet at this little spot on a map!
Driving on U.S. Highway 160 from the Navajo Nation Four Corners Monument north to Colorado is a scenic drive like no other! This high desert environment is one of the harshest on earth and the barren eroded mesas look like they are just waiting for an artist to break out an easel. The initial barren desolate look is deceptive, because there are many hidden microclimates that have sustained life in this region since ancient times. Some of the hidden green areas are lush year round, while others come and go with the wet weather seasons. When the summer monsoon rain season arrives, the look of a green desert is surprising to see, but this is a temporary state of the environment too. Life has adapted to rapidly changing environmental conditions in this region in a way that can only be noticed over a long period of time. When it rains or when the winter snow melt seeps out of the sandstone rock strata, nature moves quickly to make the best of the moment, so survival can continue on.
When travelers get to the intersection of Highway 160 and Highway 491 on the way to Cortez, they are well into the Southern Ute Nation and there are endless miles of unspoiled beautiful high mesa scenery. The Southern Ute Nation is also a great place to learn a little something from cultural exchange. Tours of the ancient pueblos in the Ute Mountain Tribal Park are available during the summer season. The Ute Mountain Casino Resort is also a nice experience and traditional Native American cuisine is offered in the restaurant. Native Four Corners regional food is truly something good to experience if one wants to gain some insight into the local cultures. The Ute Mountain Casino has a heritage park that and there are several trading posts nearby that offer a chance to find a unique memento of the journey to bring back home.
Both Shiprock and Ute Mountain are landmarks that must be noted before exploring the ancient archaeological sites in Hovenweep National Monument and Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument. When the maps, GPS and smart phone data mapping services are useless way out in this wilderness area, all that one has to do is look for Ute Mountain or Shiprock on the horizon to regain their bearings. Oddly enough, while hiking to several ancient pueblos in Hovenweep and Canyons Of The Ancients, the importance of these landmarks will come to light. From most of the ancient pueblos to the west, one can see Ute Mountain or the Shiprock landmark in New Mexico plain as day. It becomes obvious that there used to be quite a smoke signal communication network in this region.
After getting to the historic town of Cortez, visitors will find many touring options to choose from while there. A couple of roads go to Hovenweep and end near Monument Valley and Bears Ears National Monument. One road runs northwest to Canyons Of The Ancients, Dolores and it also ends near Bears Ears National Monument and Canyonlands National Park. Another route goes uphill in the San Juan Mountains to Rico and Telluride. Yet another travel option leads visitors to Mesa Verde National Park, the Mancos Valley and historic Durango. Cortez is renowned for being the gateway to Mesa Verde Country, but as can be seen, this is a basecamp town that is the starting point for endless adventures in any direction that the car is pointed!
Cortez, Colorado was established back in 1886 as a work camp for the Dolores River irrigation projects. No better location could have been chosen from tourism perspective, even though the age of the automobile was still many decades away. However, the European pioneers were not the first to realize the importance of this region, because the old Spanish Trail runs right through this town. The Escalante-Dominguez Expedition played an important part in the history of Cortez and the name of this town is in reference to the age in history when this entire region was part of Mexico.
In modern times, Cortez caters to tourism and the primary focus is on Mesa Verde Country. The old main street area dates back to the early 1900s, so that old wild west feeling can still be found. Antique movie theaters are en vogue with nostalgia buffs and an old neon cinema marquis still stands tall in the middle of town. There are many restored Route 66 travel era motels in Cortez that charm the nostalgia fans too. The local dining options reflect upon western and Spanish heritage and there are a few Mexican restaurants in town that offer a good dining value. There is even an old fashioned Route 66 era drive-in burger stand called Burger Boy that is easily the busiest dining spot in town.
In recent years, a new kind of tourism has become a major economic driver and smart businesses have adjusted venues to meet the needs of this new clientele base. Cannabis tourism is real, it is legitimate and it has created many entrepreneurial opportunities. Ever since state prohibition ended, Colorado has become famous for being a top legal marijuana vacation destination. Basically, the Colorado marijuana industry heavily promotes good health and enjoying Mother Nature’s herb in the great outdoors.
With the increase in overnight out of state visitors, the classic old motels in Cortez that suffered the most during the Great Recession were able to restore facilities for a bright future. In fact, some of the local historic motels in Cortez now proudly light up the “4:20 Friendly” sign on their marquis, because they realize that the out of state visitors want a place to peacefully smoke and that is where the real money is at. I have stayed at the old historic Route 66 travel era Tomahawk Motel in Cortez many times before it became 4:20 friendly and only once since then. All I can say is that the new weed friendly scene at the Tomahawk is pretty cool, especially since most of the conversations with the guests have to do with outdoor activities in this region. Cannabis tourism has put Cortez right back on the map, so as the old weed saying goes, just go with it!
As can easily be seen, Cortez, Colorado is quite an appealing destination for those who travel to the Four Corners region! The town of Cortez offers good value for travelers in this modern age of grossly inflated prices and there are endless things to do. Cortez is the gateway to Mesa Verde Country adventures and much more, so this is reason enough to check out this unique old west town!
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