On the trail of the ancients

Explore the lesser-known gems of an archaeological treasure trove near Colorado's Mesa Verde

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Hitting the trail

PARKS AND MUSEUMS

Along with archaeological sites, we've listed good museums to visit before heading out. Cortez, Colorado, has the largest selection of restaurants and lodging in the area. For a travel planner and map, contact the Mesa Verde Country Visitor Information Bureau, (800/253-1616).

Anasazi Heritage Center. Don't miss the collection of artifacts and 12th-century archaeological sites next to the museum. 9-5 daily; $3. 27501 State 184, Dolores; (970) 882-4811.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. There are two easily accessible sites worth visiting. Lowry Pueblo Ruins dates back to 1060; it once may have been home to 1,800 people. It consists of the remains of 40 rooms and eight kivas. 9 miles west of Pleasant View off County BB. Sand Canyon Trail leads 7 miles (one-way) into some beautiful red rock country. It passes several small structures within the first couple miles; there are good turnaround points if you don't want to do the entire hike. From U.S. 666, take County G west 12 miles to trailhead parking on right. For more on the monument, call (970) 882-4811.

Cortez Cultural Center. Interpretive exhibits and occasional Native American dances. 10-5 Mon-Sat. 25 N. Market St., Cortez; www.cortezculturalcenter.org or (970) 565-1151.

Hovenweep National Monument. Of the six sites here, Square Tower is the largest and easiest to visit. It's a short walk from the monument's visitor center. The monument is about 45 miles from Cortez--fill up with gas before heading out. Take U.S. 666 to County G and follow signs. 8-5 daily; $6 per vehicle. (970) 562-4282.

Mesa Verde National Park. Set in alcoves beneath the rims of sandstone canyons, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde are the country's best-known Ancestral Puebloan sites. No trip to the Four Corners is complete without a walk through its most famous spots, such as Spruce Tree House. Even after more than a century of study, Mesa Verde continues to yield surprises; wildfires in summer 2000 helped uncover numerous sites. Arrive early and allow a full day to visit. $10 per vehicle. www.nps.gov/meve or (970) 529-4465.

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