Cortez is situated between the scenic San Juan Mountains to the east and the semi-arid desert of the Four Corners region to the west in southwestern Colorado. A variety of terrain types are within a few hours' drive. A small city with a storied history, Cortez was originally built as a staging ground for workers building tunnels and irrigation ditches into the Montezuma Valley. The lack of water within the town itself affected the agricultural economy, but the proximity of nearby ruins all but ensures visitors.
Cortez is located in the middle of the most archeologically dense region of the country. Thousands of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites have been discovered in the surrounding area, including the famous ruins at Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is not only a National Park; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is known for a number of cliff dwellings. The park offers hikes, scenic drives, and guided tours through some of the ruins. Also nearby is the Hovenweep National Monument, straddling the Colorado/Utah border, with 6 clusters of ruins. The Canyons of the Ancients in turn surrounds much of Hovenweep and houses over 6,000 individual archeological sites. In town the Cortez Cultural Center provides a meeting place for art, education, and archeology.
The less historically minded can visit McPhee Lake, the Dolores River, and the San Juan Mountains. Cortez is a short drive to Four Corners, where you can be in four states at one time. Arches National Park and Monument Valley are also close. The San Juan Skyway and Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway intersect nearby.
In the surrounding area, a number of wineries, alpaca farms, and orchards are open to the public.
Cortez is located in the southwest corner of Colorado, about 170 miles south of Grand Junction and 350 miles southwest of Denver. For more information about the Cortez region, select a topic of interest from the left-hand column.