The northern escarpment of Mesa Verde to the southeast and the volcanic blisters of La Plata Mountains to the east dominate the views around sprawling Cortez. With its Days Inns, Dairy Queens, and Best Westerns, the town has a layout that seems to have been determined by neon-sign and aluminum-siding salesmen of the 1950s. Hidden among these eyesores, however, are fine galleries, shops showcasing Native American art, and a host of secondhand shops that can yield surprising finds.

The gently rising hump to the southwest of town is Sleeping Ute Mountain, which resembles the reclining silhouette of a Native American, complete with headdress. This site is sacred to the Ute Mountain tribe, as it represents a great warrior god who, after being mortally wounded in a titanic battle with evil gods, lapsed into eternal sleep, his flowing blood turning into the life-giving Dolores and Animas rivers.

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