Of the many fascinating discoveries to be made in Mesa Verde Country, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is not to be missed in Southwestern Colorado.
Located about 15 minutes north of Cortez via Colorado State Highway 145 (CO 145) is the museum and visitor center (formerly known as the Anasazi Heritage Center). Inside you will find friendly and helpful volunteers to answer questions and provide maps of the region where archeological sites can be found.
The museum is a wonderland filled with exceptional artifacts, and timeline of the Ancestral Puebloan People indicating how they developed. Interactive exhibits help you discover more about the people living in this area over 800 years ago.
You’ll see weaving styles from the vast Basketmaker periods, arrowheads and tools, and an extensive collection of pottery. Note-able are the corrugated pots of hand coiled clay that were durable for cooking, as well as intricate Mesa Verde Black on White pottery, and brilliant Polychrome pottery with red and orange coloring.
Above are ceramics exhibiting the creativity and artistry of the puebloan people, with interesting creations such as these clay human feet as part of an effigy.
With millions of artifacts on permanent display (or part of a special exhibit) with notes about the site where they were found, you can easily spend an afternoon here discovering.
Truly remarkable in the museum is this mural on plaster (above) taken from a great kiva bench near the Lowry Pueblo (about 30 minutes from the museum). The mural was removed as part of a salvage excavation from the Knobby Knee site, hence the name for archeologists having to crawl on hands and knees at times as they excavated.
Below is another impressive part of the museum — a recreation of an actual pithouse giving an idea of how the pueblo people lived. Pithouses were built with floor level lower than the ground surface, then covered with a roof comprised of tree limbs, brush, mud and dirt. The structures were primitive and sustainable much like today’s adobe homes, keeping the temperature fairly stable, warm in winter and cool in summer. Pithouses were relatively easy to build, and later gave way to larger structures made of stone and clay, then to the magnificent cliff dwellings found at Mesa Verde.
The interactive displays and children’s discovery center entices you to learn more about the day to day life of the native people. Try weaving on a Pueblo-style loom, grind corn into meal on a metate stone, peek into microscopes to see pottery up close, open drawers where you may touch artifacts, and read historical information about the set-up and tools of archeological digs.
After visiting the museum, more discoveries await you outside. The Escalante and Dominguez Pueblos on site make this center quite extraordinary. The Dominguez site is located just outside the museum, and the Escalante site is a short walk on top of a hill behind the museum.
The trail is easy to follow, winding 1/2 mile to the pueblo site (it is uphill so take your time, rest when needed on benches, and be sure to drink plenty of water in this arid desert climate).
This pueblo’s construction began around AD 1129 and was added onto in the years to come. It’s name derives from Father Silveste Velez de Escalante, when Spanish explorers looking for a trade route from New Mexico to California came upon this area.
From the hilltop there are 360 degree sweeping views of the La Plata Mountains to the east, Mesa Verde Mountain Range to the south, Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west, and the Abajo Mountains in Monticello, Utah to the north west. This positioning would have given the inhabitants the advantage of navigating the land with these landmarks.
Here in this picturesque place is the opportunity to take in the moment, the vast scenery, and reflect on what it must have been like to have lived here.
We are so grateful for these museums and visitor centers to help preserve history now, and for generations to come.
Wishing you Happy Discoveries!
Amy & Mr.D