Colorado ruins paint rich pictures of a rich past. You’ll find many historic sites and timeworn relics across the Centennial State, all adding to the region’s allure and annals. Many of the best Colorado ruins are just a short drive from Durango. This means it is easy to step back in time with a day trip to a historic site during your adventure in the Four Corners region. Let’s explore 5 Colorado ruins so you can plan a visit to the past and make the most of your time in the ancient hills of the San Juan Mountains.
Who Built These Colorado Ruins?
The Four Corners region was once the home of the Ancestral Puebloans. These are the enigmatic people who built most of the Colorado ruins. Their world existed from about 500 to 1300 A.D. The Ancestral Puebloans built many of the Colorado ruins you can tour and explore today. The Ancestral Puebloans might be best known for their cliff dwellings and pottery.Ancestral Puebloans
But there is much more to these people. Agriculture supported their society, as did a system of beliefs that hinged on spiritual power and ceremonies. Religious ceremonies were held in large, round rooms called Kivas. Families often dwelled in apartment-style homes built right into cliffs.
Looking for a destination off the beaten path? Consider checking out Chimney Rock National Monument. This historic and archeological site is among the many Colorado ruins tucked into the San Juan Mountains region. Chimney Rock National Monument spans over 7 square miles. You’ll find 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings of the Ancestral Puebloans people at the site, each nearly 1,000 years old. You can even hike to the top of Chimney Rock itself.
The views from the top reveal 360-degree views of Colorado and New Mexico from a perch 7,000 feet above sea level. Chimney Rock National Monument is about 50 miles east of Durango. You’ll find guided walking tours and interpretive programs when the monument is open, May-October.
Cliff Palace is one of the most expansive Colorado ruins. Recent archaeological research has proven that this massive part of the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and was home to about 100 people. Modern visitors to Cliff Palace often notice one thing: the size of the doorways. Why are they so tiny?Cliff Dwellings
The Ancestral Puebloans were a bit smaller than today’s average person. The average man was about 5’4”, while a woman was only 5’. Visitors can explore Cliff Palace on a ranger-guided tour through the National Parks Service. Tickets are required. Cliff Palace is about 60 miles west of Durango.
Lowry Pueblo is part of the Canyons of the Ancients. It was one of the northernmost Ancestral Pueblo ruins and was a fairly small community with just a few rooms and only 40 or so inhabitants. It dates back to the 11th century. One thing that makes Lowry Pueblo unique is the site’s extraordinary Great Kiva.Canyons Of The Ancients
The kiva at these Colorado ruins is much larger than those at other similarly-sized dwellings. The large kiva might suggest that Lowry Pueblo was a ceremonial destination for the Ansestral Puebloans people in the region. Lowry Pueblo is about 70 miles northwest of Durango. You can get there by following CO-184 and US-160.
Hovenweep National Monument
Both history and mystery can be found at Hovenweep National Monument. These remarkable Colorado ruins consist of 6 Ancestral Puebloan villages, each unique and different. Many of the buildings were constructed on top of boulders and on canyon edges. To this day, researchers know very little about the Hovenweep villages.Hovenweep
When W.D. Huntington brought his expedition through in 1854, he was told to stay away from Hovenweep as locals believed the ruins were haunted. Research suggests the Hovenweep villages were abandoned around 1300 A.D., but there is little information available about why they left. Hovenweep National Monument is right on the Colorado-Utah state line, about 90 miles from Durango.
Just like Cliff Palace, you’ll find Long House in the Mesa Verde National Park. Long House is also similar in size to Cliff Palace with 150 rooms and 21 kivas, but that is where the commonalities might end. Archaeologists and other researchers believe that Long House was most often used as a kind of community center for civic and ceremonial gatherings rather than a dwelling.
There is a large open space that was likely a great kiva or even a dance plaza. The presence of vaults, benches, and a raised firebox supports this suggestion. Long House is located on the Weatherhill Mesa in the Mesa Verde National Park about an hour from Durango. You’ll find these ruins at the end of a 12-mile road that departs from the main park road near the Fair View Lodge.
Experience Colorado Ruins
Many great Colorado ruins are just a short drive from Durango. Make our Four Corners destination your home base for your next exploration! From stepping back into the ancient past to enjoying the present, there is so much to do and see in and around Durango. Explore the great Colorado outdoors, make a splash on a whitewater rafting trip, or even relax in a hot spring all on your next Durango vacation!