Postcard from Cortez in southwestern Colorado

Southwestern Colorado, near Cortez in Montezuma County. | Dennis Lennox

It’s not easy to top the list in a state known for everything outdoors.

Yet, visitors to Cortez in southwestern Colorado, near where the Centennial State meets Arizona, Utah and New Mexico at Four Corners, discover a remarkable destination that includes natural wonders, national parks, archaeological landmarks and a vineyard in arguably one of the most unexpected of locations.

My visit started at Sutcliffe Vineyards situated in McElmo Canyon, an oasis surrounded by the sagebrush and cottonwoods of Colorado’s high desert. The drive to and from Cortez, the seat of Montezuma County, takes about 20 minutes on a winding county road.

Proprietor John Sutcliffe somehow manages to produce wine at 5,340 feet in elevation, which is quite the accomplishment given the blazing hot summers, cold winters and late spring frosts. Sutcliffe’s wines are not novelty wines. Rather, they are serious wines with several receiving ratings above 90 points from the critics at Wine Enthusiast.

The Sand Canyon trailhead in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. | Dennis Lennox

Across the road is the trailhead at Sand Canyon on the southern edge of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. From here several trails pass by Navajo sandstone formations and ancient ruins. Also nearby is the Hovenweep National Monument.

On the other side of Cortez is the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, which contains 600 Ancestral Puebloan (also called Anasazi) cliff dwellings from the 12th and 13th centuries. The ruins, which include a massive 150-room dwelling, are considered among the best-preserved ruins anywhere in North America.

More about the people and culture who lived at Mesa Verde can be learned by visiting the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum. Unfortunately, both are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you go

The tasting room at Sutcliffe Vineyards is open 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily, year-round. National parks are also open year-round, though some access is seasonally restricted.

Consider staying at either the Holiday Inn Express Mesa Verde-Cortez or the Retro Inn, a vintage roadside motel that punches well above its weight. For restaurants, Farm Bistro and Main Street Brewery are recommended.

Cortez is best reached by car, though the local airport is served by commuter airline Boutique Air. Driving from airports in Grand Junction, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Salt Lake City takes between four and six hours.

Spires and Crosses is a weekly travel column. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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