TOURISM EXEC OFFERS PEEK INTO BEST-KEPT SECRETS
OF SOUTHWEST COLORADO
CORTEZ, CO The mention of Colorado conjures up images of tall, snow-capped mountains, epic skiing, and hikes through dense forests. Yet in the southwest corner of the state is an area with warm, dry climates, 800-year-old cliff dwellings, and mountain biking trails that rival Moab's. Here, Mesa Verde Country®, the southwest Colorado travel area surrounding Mesa Verde National Park, details four of the best-kept secrets in Southwest Colorado.
Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Center
Mesa Verde National Park, the nation's seventh oldest, is home to the artifacts and intricately built cliff dwellings of the area's original inhabitants, the Ancestral Puebloans. Selected by National Geographic Traveler as one of "50 Places to Visit in a Lifetime," the park contains spectacular 800-year-old mesa-top villages and multi-story cliff dwellings, perched precariously in the alcoves of rock walls.
Brand new this year is the park's Visitor and Research Center. The new building, located at the park entrance, replaces the aging Far View Visitor Center as the park's primary facility for orienting visitors to opportunities within the park and surrounding area. It also houses a state-of-the-art research and storage facility for the park's archives and museum collection of over three million objects. This new LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) facility is an exciting and long-awaited project.
Nearly 40 mountain bike rides cover more than 500 miles in Mesa Verde Country®. The most well known rivaling trails in Durango and Moab is Phil's World, a network of singletrack trails. Hard-packed, with overall elevation of approximately 750 feet, Phil's World features individual climbs limited to a half-mile in length and 200 feet in elevation. The well-maintained track includes a rollercoaster section and several jumps.
The landscape throughout Phil's World is primarily Colorado desert, with some trails running through waist-high jumiper trees and along the rims of cliffs. The entire system lies in the shadow of Mesa Verde National Park. Built and maintained by mountain bikers, Phil's World is unique in that it resides on state trust lands leased by the local Kokopelli Bike Club.
Sand Canyon Trail, another popular trail, is located inside the boundaries of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It is one of the only singletrack mountain bike rides in a national monument, with spur trails leading to archaeological sites and small cliff dwellings tucked in sandstone alcoves. Locally produced maps at www.BigLoopMaps.com detail rides for all ability levels and features terrain from year-round desert trails to high-altitude mountain routes.
Fishing in Colorado means a chance to catch 35 species of warm- and cold-water fish. Many people think the best fly fishing is limited to cool, high altitude Rocky Mountain streams in mid-summer. Yes some of the best Colorado fishing takes place in Mesa Verde Country®. They provide comprehensive fishing maps for Mesa Verde Country® showing fishing areas, species of fish, facilities and descriptions.
The Dolores River begins high on Lizard Head Pass and runs to McPhee Lake, where it becomes a classic tail water fishery. The section above the reservoir is a typical high-alpine freestone stream featuring rainbow trout. The section below the dam at McPhee Lake is pristine tail water for 11 miles, with rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. Fly fishing here, especially during low water, may be very technical. The river fishes well into November.
McPhee Lake, with nearly 4,500 surface acres, is Colorado's second-largest man-made lake. Stocked annually with rainbow trout, the lake also is home to large-mouth and small-mouth bass, black crappie, bluegill and channel catfish.
A Season for Every Activity You Control the Weather!
In southwest Colorado, there's more than skiing in winter and hiking in summer. Variations in altitude and terrain create opportunities for changing your temperature and terrain all within the same day.
Winters in Mesa Verde Country offer bright sunshine, days that warm into the 40s, sun that warms red-rock canyons, and cold, clear nights. Nordic enthusiasts can choose from untracked powder, more than 100 miles of groomed trails, or backcountry hut systems, while Alpine skiers and boarders can visit Telluride Ski Resort and Durango Mountain Resort.
Come spring, green spreads up the mountainsides and into the canyons, wild flowers begin to burst into bloom, and bird song fills the air. Ecosystem diversity beckons year-round birders. Dolores River trips range from easy tours to running the rapids at the height of the spring snowmelt. Popular hiking areas include Mesa Verde National Park.
In the summer, elevation changes from 4,000 to 14,000 feet let visitors control their climate. Higher up, the two-million-acre San June National Forest offers a wealth of hiking and wildflowers. Lower, boating and waterskiing at McPhee Lake are popular, as are the local farmers' markets throughout the area. Visitors may participate in true old west activities like horseback riding and cattle drives.
Autumn announces its arrival with brilliant gold quaking aspen leaves on the hillsides and in the valleys and fewer visitors. Popular leaf-peeping drives include the famous San Juan Skyway. Warm temps, clear skies and dry air make for some of the year's best hiking, biking, hunting, horseback riding and golfing.