Road Trip: Mesa Verde to Sky City

400 miles of Southwest sights, history, and culture.
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400 miles of Southwest sights, history, and culture.
Credit: Deiter Braun

Credit: Deiter Braun

1) This Southwestern journey begins in Mesa Verde National Park (970-529-4465, nps.gov/meve) near Cortez, Colo. The park is home to 600 world-renowned cliff dwellings that were occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people for 700 years, from A.D. 550 to 1300. Be sure to visit either the Spruce Tree House or the Cliff Palace if you’re short on time. If you do have time, take a quick drive over to Towaoc, Colo., and visit the Ute Mountain Pottery Plant (800-565-8837, utemountainpottery.com) where you can take a tour and purchase their beautiful products right off the floor. 

2) Head east through Durango and Pagosa Springs—Durango is a favorite Colorado town and the hot springs in Pagosa are top-notch—and then cross the border into New Mexico to get to Chama, home of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (888-286-2737, cumbrestoltec.com), which was awarded a National Historic Landmark Designation in 2013. Operating through most of October, the railroad passes through incredible country on its way to and from Antonito, Colo.

3) Just south of Chamas, plan to spend some time at the Ghost Ranch Living Museum (877-804-4678, ghostranch.org), where artist Georgia O’Keeffe lived for 50 years, inspired daily by the area’s incredible desertscapes and colors. You can even saddle up and ride out to the very places of her paintings, otherwise restricted to visitor use.

4) Continuing south, Santa Fe is a must. Enhance your newfound love of all things O’Keeffe at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (505-946-1000, okeeffemuseum.org), or head to the Historic Plaza to peruse authentic American Indian wares and to tour the New Mexico History Museum & Palace of the Governors (505-476-5200, palaceofthegovernors.com), the oldest continuously occupied U.S. government building, which now hosts numerous exhibitions throughout the year. To really dig into the rich art scene, head down Canyon Road—“the art and soul of Santa Fe.”

5) Roll on out and head west on U.S. Highway 40 (Old Town Albuquerque is a perfectly charming spot along the way) until you reach Acoma Sky City. The Sky City Cultural Center (800-747-0181, acomaskycity.org) offers a museum as well as guided tours into Sky City, the home of 4,800 tribal members, famous for their pottery, and for living completely off the grid atop a sheer-walled sandstone butte. On your way to or from the center, stop at the overlook. Should the Mesa View Mobile Shop be parked there, stop in and say hi to Big Joe. Chances are good he’ll have some beautiful jewelry that you won’t want to go home without.