Traveling the Trail of the Ancients provides a veritable looking glass into the region's rich history. The hallmark attraction, Mesa Verde National Park, is where visitors get an up-close-and-personal look at the life of the Ancestral Puebloans and their ancient cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages. Other heritage attractions to please the eye include Ute Mountain Tribal Park, for a remote archaeological experience accompanied by Ute guides; Hovenweep National Monument, protecting six prehistoric, Ancestral Puebloan villages spanning 20 miles; Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, boasting more than 100 archaeological sites per square mile; Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, for "hands-on" archaeology; the Anasazi Heritage Center, offering interpretive programs and exhibits on archaeology, history, and Native American culture; and the Cortez Cultural Center presenting the color of Native American dances, six nights a week during the summer.
At Mesa Verde National Park visitors literally may walk in the steps of the early-day inhabitants, climbing in and out of the ancient dwellings using ladders, stairs and tunnels. The Ute Mountain Utes offer guided tours of Ute Tribal Park interpreting Ute Indian history, pictographs, geological land formations, and Ancestral Pueblo petroglyphs, artifacts, and dwellings. Visitors may touch ancient pottery sherds, stone tools, and corn cobs from ancient times (just be sure to put them back where you find them.) At Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, kids of all ages may roll up their sleeves to participate in one of the week-long educational or supervised dig programs. Or "Touch the Past" with one of their day programs offered during the summer months.
Sometimes the sound the soul craves the most is beautiful and refreshing silence. There is a pristine splendor hidden in the sweeping vistas and rugged beauty of the Colorado Plateau, where Mother Nature's whispers often offer relaxation and solitude. Keep your ears and eyes peeled for wildlife moving through the canyons and meadows, or soaring overhead. Visit the Cortez Cultural Center during the Ute Mountain/Mesa Verde Birding Festival, held every May, and join birdwatchers from across the nation as they welcome the sights and sounds of spring migrants and early nesters along the Trail of the Ancients.
When a rainstorm approaches the Colorado Plateau, the high desert smells of rain, and when the rain storm passes, the odors of sage, juniper, and pinon fragrance the air. In springtime, the fields once tended by the Ancestral Puebloans give off the scent of fresh cut hay, and the orchards of the canyons and valleys are filled with the perfume of flowering fruit trees.
The Ancestral Puebloans were the first agriculturists in the area and the Trail of the Ancients was once home to Ancestral Puebloan farms and trade routes. Now it is home to wineries, micro breweries, and a distillery to delight the palates of visitors. Farmer's markets, held throughout the summer, provide an indulgence in area harvests and many local restaurants support sustainable cuisine.