Charged with protecting the human past as well as the physical landscape, Mesa Verde contains cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people, in a sweeping high-desert setting in which all the doings of man can seem ephemeral.
Tours to Mesa Verde's cliff houses are rewarding but can be overrun in summer. Get cultural immersion without the crowding next door at the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, where mountain bikers can follow a mounted Ute guide up a lonesome dirt road to a series of Pueblo home sites, the farthest of which demands scrambling up and down high wooden ladders. Reservations and a Ute guide are required, with a minimum of five riders. $44 per person; utemountainute.com
Where to Stay
Near Hesperus, a half- hour from Mesa Verde, the Blue Lake Ranch bed-and-breakfast sits on about 200 acres, much of it planted with kaleidoscopic native flowers. Accommodations are spread across the property, with the Cottage in the Woods and Cabin on the Lake offering the most solitude. All come with exquisite breakfasts and squatter's rights to Adirondack chairs by the resort's trout pond, with the toothy La Plata Mountains in the background. Doubles and suites, $135$375; bluelakeranch.com
Where to Eat
The wizards at Durango's East by Southwest craft some of the most imaginative sushi in the West. Go for the Kamikaze (barbecued eel), Spyder (soft-shell crab), and one of 30 types of sake. eastbysouthwest.com
Zoom through stands of tall ponderosa pines and aspen on a zip-line course in the wild, roadless country between Durango and Silverton. Accessible only from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the zip lines, once reserved for guests of the isolated Tall Timber Resort, are open now to any who relish soaring from platform to platform with the tree-shadowed ground 100 feet below. $329 per person per day; soaringcolorado.com