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Scenic towns In Colorado's Southwest offer Inspiring Destinations: Cortez, Delores and Mancos

Colorado's Mesa Verde Country, located in the state's southwest, offers visitors a scenically inspiring and diverse landscape; from rugged mountains and high desert plains, to valleys and lush forests with Ponderosa pines, furs and at higher elevations, picturesque aspens and spruce trees. In fall, the area's vibrant hues are breath-taking and in winter, the fresh crisp air and snowy landscapes that blanket the small towns are magical. Moreover, each season portrays a distinct quality that instills a longing to explore the landscape and towns in this Colorado region.

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Three exceptional towns to visit in Mesa Verde Country are Cortez, Delores and Mancos. Each town has a unique character and features enticing attractions, galleries and restaurants, as well as abundant outdoor activities. In addition, the towns are located within a short 15 to 17-miles of each other.

Cortez

Cortez, the largest of the three towns, is nestled in the Montezuma Valley with splendid farmlands, surrounded by beautiful Mountains. Within the downtown area, you'll find unique shops, superb restaurants and cultural attractions. And, the town is located just miles from many of the historic Native American sites and national parks. The Cortez Cultural Center is an exciting museum to visit with exhibits about the area's history, an art gallery and brilliant Native American Dances that are performed from Memorial Day -- Labor Day. Famous dancers, such as the renowned Roach Family, perform fancy dance and hoop dance with intricate steps and amazing skill that is captivating to experience. The Center also offers outdoor pursuits and much more. Check hours and schedules for latest events.

Trading posts are an excellent place to find Native American art. Notah-Dineh, located on Cortez's Main street has been in Cortez for 62-years and sports the largest selection of coveted Navajo rugs in the Southwest and impressive, Native American hand-made jewelry. Original owner Bob Leighton built the trading post and collected many outstanding Native American art pieces and artifacts through the years. Leighton's artifacts are now located in the post's lower floor museum (free to visit). The museum is a must-visit and displays the most beautiful, largest woven Two Grey Hills rug in the SW, Ute beadwork, healing blankets, jewelry and a host of additional fascinating artifacts.

Today, Leighton's son Glenn continues the tradition of the trading post and presents an array of magnificent Native American arts and crafts that span from pottery, beadwork and baskets to weavings and jewelry.

If you are a wine enthusiast, the appealing Guy Drew Vineyards and tasting room are situated among ancient dwellings in the scenic McElmo Canyon, located just 10-minutes from Cortez. Drew began planting in 1999 and with controlled management and dedication, cultivated his grapes to produce quality wine in a rather difficult growing region. The tasting room is not pretentious or fussy and neither is Drew; it's about the merit of the wine and feeling relaxed in an inviting atmosphere to savor the vintages. If you visit, try Drew's stellar 2015 double gold winning Syrah; it's light but has a decided thrust of dark berry flavors. For Cabernet Sauvignon fans, try the 2014 silver medal Cab with a great balance and subtle, spicy notes.

Mancos

Mancos, a charming small historic town, features numerous galleries and shops that reside in turn-of-the-century sandstone buildings. The town's galleries are a large draw and feature exquisite Native American art and local artisans that are located along Grand Avenue.

Artisans Of Mancos, established for 12-years, features 19 local artisans that create stunning jewelry, textiles, paintings and pottery. These marvelous exhibitions of work are located in the historic old bank building and are a pleasure to peruse.

Located across the street from AOM, The Kilgore American Indian Art gallery is a must if you visit the town. Owner Kelley Kilgore was immersed in Navajo and Hopi culture when her parents purchased a trading post on the Navajo reservation in the late'50s. Kilgore's love for the people and their art created a passion for acquiring Native American collections and a desire to open a galley in Scottsdale with her mother. Today, Kilgore has the distinction of appraiser for the Heard Museum in Phoenix for over 25-years and presides over a notable collection in her Mancos gallery.

One of the most stunning pieces in the Kilgore gallery greets you upon entering, a 1950's hand-spun, wool rug woven by Navajo sisters Louise and Helen Kirk at the Hubbell Trading Post. This 9X20-foot red, black and grey rug represents the amazing artistry of Navajo weaving. Further, Kilgore proffers a large selection of beautiful Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Santo Domingo jewelry, as well as pottery, baskets and beadwork.

Another fabulous gallery to visit is the Veryl Goodnight Gallery. Goodnight is the grandniece of Charlie Goodnight, cattle rancher and "father of the Texas Panhandle." The gallery features Goodnight's exquisite paintings and sculptures that reflect pioneer Western women, horses and wildlife. Her work resides in museums, universities and two presidential libraries as well.

Start your day of exploring Mancos with an tremendous breakfast the Absolute Bakery and Cafe. In addition to their mouth-watering bakery goods, the cafe offers excellent breakfast and lunch menus with the freshest made-from-scratch ingredients. This is not fast food but an ode to delicious, slow-cooked, real food that will captivate your taste buds. While you sip a cup of gourmet coffee or tea over that decadent, hot cinnamon roll, or vanilla-cinnamon custard French toast, there are plenty of books and artwork in the cafe to draw your attention, not to mention artisan cards and fun cafe items.

If you visit, make sure to stop by the Mancos Valley Chamber Of Commerce; it's a great place to help plan some of your adventures. You can obtain information on area attractions, as well as Mancos with a handy brochure that lists historic buildings and locations in town; all easily walkable. Or, grab a schedule of events, such as the cattle drives through town and Mancos's Birding Festival. If you read Louis L'Amour's western books, the chamber has a map of all the locations where the stories in his books take place.

Delores

Delores is a lovely small town located at the edge of the mountains with the picturesque Delores River running alongside. The summer season is especially popular for fishing and fly fishing, as well as hiking, kayaking and rafting on the Delores River. After a stroll along the river and through the scenic town, stop by The Traditional Charm Antique Mall. The building is large and stuffed full of treasures from the Victorian era to the '80s. It's a great place to find a gift or the piece you been looking for, such as that ruby colored hurricane lamp or those gently worn cowboy boots, not made for decades.

West Fork Interiors, located on South 5th, is a combination of gallery and interior design specialties. Owner Michelle Martin, a professional artist and interior designer, has created a space that features her art, as well as a group of other well-known artists. A walk through Martin's store will reveal must-have paintings and small art pieces that will grace your home.

If you fancy railroad museums or just have a keen interest, the Galloping Goose and the Rio Grande Southern Museum in Delores is an interesting museum to explore. And, starting in 2018, guests can take a ride on the Goose train during summer, fall and winter excursions. The museum also sports a nice little gift shop as well. Make sure you check hours and schedules for the museum before you visit.

Food and Wine

Cortez is known for its fabulous restaurants and many have been initiated by chefs that came from larger, renowned establishment but wanted to create their own cuisine expressions. Loungin' Lizard on Main Street serves a delectable Cinnamon Chili Pork Tenderloin and its counterpart the Chop House located adjacent, prepares locally-sourced when possible ingredients that translate into luscious sauces for filets and tapas that will memorize your palate.

The Farm Bistro represents the best in farm-to-fork and with the abundance of the area's fresh agricultural produce and ingredients. Owners Rusty and Laurie Hall have created a menu resplendent with inspiring cuisine, such as their sublime Moroccan style lamb meatballs and appetizing comfort chicken fried steak that will be the best you've ever eaten.

If you are thirsty for a flight of beer, stop by the WildEdge Brewing Collective. This Cortez hotspot is busy even mid-week with excellent brews, live music and a friendly, celebratory atmosphere. Try the Collective's Liquid Art for a refreshing brew of Malis Cider.

Lodging

Mesa Verde Country offers many wonderful hotels but if you prefer a "Blast From The Past," book a stay at the popular Retro Inn, located on East Main ST. Each room number in this cool motel correlates to the year of the theme with matching era decor. A fresh and super clean 1950's room is replete with teal accent walls, a pink-tile bathroom and photo wall art from the era. Say hi to the life-size Elvis on your way to check-in and sip a cup of coffee in the black and white checked-tiled lobby to appreciate this fun and unique motel.

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Patrice RapleePatrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Visit her website Travel-Excursion for more information.



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