Canyons of the Ancients – Dolores, Colorado - Atlas Obscura

Canyons of the Ancients

A breathtaking array of ancient Pueblo structures and artifacts counterintuitively preserved by neglect. 


Ripe for quiet reflection and simply awe-inspiring, Canyons of the Ancients is an outdoor museum home to more than 6,000 archaeological sites, a concentration of historic treasures that’s unrivaled in the United States. This national monument is not widely publicized, but it has a lot to offer for anyone interested in Native American cultures.

Spanning 176,000 acres, the landscape contains scores of well-preserved remnants of the area’s native cultures, such as the ruins of homes, reservoirs, shrines, farms, and entire villages. Most of the stone structures at the monument date from the era of the ancient Puebloans, who first built basic structures and eventually ended up with a village. It is estimated that they left the region sometime in the mid-1100s, moving to what is now Arizona and New Mexico.

Exploring Canyons of the Ancients is a unique opportunity to observe, study, and experience how ancestral peoples lived and adapted over time in the American Southwest. Untouched by development, this remote and rugged landscape has preserved relics of humanity going back thousands of years. The sprawling grounds are also home to beautiful isolated canyons with incredible ruins—and usually not a lot of people. It can be difficult to reach some sites without enough time, but there are so many archeological valuables scattered all over this place, it would be virtually impossible to explore the entire area.

Know Before You Go

Visitors planning to explore the monument should first stop at the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum (10 miles north of Cortez and 3 miles west of Dolores) for orientation and current conditions. The roads around the grounds are unpaved so a good vehicle is recommended. There are also plenty of activities for different people available at the monument, such as biking, camping, and hiking.

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