Mesa Verde National Park
Established in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park preserves the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who called the region home for 700 years. The park hosts and protects nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 built beneath overhanging cliffs. Step back 1,400 years in time to explore the immaculately preserved Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House on informative ranger-guided tours. Or, for the more adventurous traveler, take on the 8-mile tour across scenic mesas and down imposing canyon walls to reach Spring House, the largest excavated site in the park.
Hovenweep National Monument
Although most of the structures standing at Hovenweep were built between 1200-1300 A.D., human habitation in the area dates as far back as 10,000 years ago. Take a stroll through ancient history to see notable sites such as the Cajon Group, Cutthroat Castle, and the Square Tower Group. And if that wasn’t enough, Hovenweep is also recognized as a Dark Sky Park. If you’ve ever wanted to embark on a scenic stargazing adventure (10/10 would recommend), Hovenweep is where it’s at.
Chimney Rock National Monument
With 200 preserved ancient homes and ceremonial buildings across seven square miles, Chimney Rock is one of Colorado’s more intimate national monuments. Open for visitors from May 15th to October 15th, this national monument offers self-guided tours and tours with a volunteer interpretive guide along primitive trails that haven’t changed in 1,000 years. The ancient structures, abundant wildlife, and breathtaking scenery of this monument make it a must-see site for anyone traveling through Southwest Colorado. Also, Chimney Rock is just a lovely and inviting name for a national monument.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
First things first, early settlers of the region hosting these ruins did mistakenly designate them as a part of the Aztec Empire in Mexico when they were actually built by Ancestral Pueblo people. Nevertheless, Aztec Ruins National Monument is a beautiful site hosting well-preserved ruins, a heritage garden, and Spanish trails leading to downtown Aztec, New Mexico. However, the highlight of the monument is the 900-year old Ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Located about 50 miles west of Durango, Canyons of the Ancients contains the highest archaeological site density in the United States. The more than 6,355 recorded sites include villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs, and sweat lodges. The real kicker is that those are just the recorded sites and that there could be upwards of 30,000 sites at the Canyons of the Ancients. Truly, this is a national monument you don’t want to miss.
Moab National Parks and Monuments
If you want to check out even more awesome national parks and monuments, consider heading out to Moab, Utah. The drive from Durango to Moab clocks in at just under 3 hours and this equally adventurous town offers access to the world-renowned Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.