Short History of Montezuma County
In 1889 the legislature created: Montezuma County from La Plata County. Cortez is the County Seat
Montezuma County, in the southwest corner of Colorado, is where the San Juan Mountains meet the desert canyon country. Our area has milder winters than most of Colorado, yet still has four distinct seasons. Winter weather patterns flow from the southwest and west, usually avoiding the colder storms that are typical of most parts of Colorado. While winter storms bring heavier snowfalls to the San Juan Mountains to the north, around Cortez our snow typically melts away in a few days. January daytime temperatures can reach into the 50's but are more typically in the 40's, while July high temperatures rarely exceed 95 degrees.
Mesa Verde Country was home to the Anasazi Indians for more than 1,000 years. The people that first built their houses here at the time of the Roman Empire farmed the mesas, plateaus, river bottoms, and canyons. They created a thriving, populous civilization that eventually raised towers and built hundred-room cities in the cliffs and caves of Mesa Verde.
The Ute Indians have lived in the region about 400 years; however, they are not believed to be descendants of the Anasazi, who abandoned the area in 1300 AD. The present Ute Mountain Ute Reservation was formed in 1897 by the Weeminuche Band of Utes. In 1895 they established a camp on the western end of the old Southern Ute Reservation, in what is today called Towaoc.
The Ute Mountain Utes and their cousins, the Southern Utes in Ignacio, are the only tribes remaining in Colorado today. The Ute Mountain Utes speak their native language as well as English, and their children attend public school in Cortez. An elected tribal council runs the day-to-day business and social services available to tribal members.
Today, the Ute Mountain Utes enjoy a modern lifestyle, while retaining their traditional customs. The annual Bear Dance, held in Towaoc for over 100 years, takes place on the reservation each spring. A symbol of the bear awakening from it's winter hibernation, the dance provides an occasion to celebrate spring. Each year Utes from all over the area gather to renew acquaintances, meet new friends, and carry on courtships.
Each summer in Cortez, the Cortez CU Center hosts a variety of Native Americans as they share dances, stories, arts and history with area visitors. Programs start 7:30 in the evenings all days but Sunday, Memorial Day through Labor Day. The programs are free of charge, rain or shine.
The elevation ranges from 6,200 feet in Cortez to approximately 7,000 feet in Mancos and Dolores. The average growing season around Cortez is 125 days, average precipitation is 13.15 inches, and the average annual snowfall is 40.6 inches. Snowfall varies considerably with elevation as shown in the table below. Mesa Verde and Dolores receive more than 80 inches of snowfall. Temperatures at Mesa Verde are slightly more temperate than Cortez, as shown in the temperature tables below the precipitation tables.
The City of Cortez is a home rule, Council-Manager community and is also the Montezuma County seat. Every two years, four council seats (at large) are up for election. The top three vote-getters serve four year terms, with the fourth serving a two year term. The mayor is elected to a two year term by Council members.
Montezuma County Towns
Town of Dolores, Colorado The Town of Dolores was incorporated in 1900
Dolores is halfway between Durango and Telluride, only 20 minutes from Mesa Verde National Park, where the Dolores River forms McPhee Reservoir, the second largest body of water in Colorado.
The Historic Dolores River Valley
The Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores
The town of Dolores lies on the San Juan Skyway, a state and federally designated scenic highway, so awe-inspiring, it has been called 'America's Most Beautiful Drive'. The 236 mile loop is a perfect one-day drive. The road will take you over and around the spectacular San Juan Mountains and through the historic mining towns of Telluride, Ouray, Silverton and Durango. Ridgway, Mancos and Cortez are also along the way.
Dolores was a railroad town for 60 years, a major Rio Grande Southern station between Durango and Ridgway. You'll find an exact replica of Dolores's original train depot standing on Railroad Avenue today, a Victorian-style structure which now houses the Rio Grande Southern Railroad Museum and the Dolores Visitors' Center.
The Town of Mancos was incorporated in 1894 as a statutory town with a Mayor-Council form of government. Seven trustees are elected to four year terms. The mayor is also elected to a four year term. The Board of Trustees meets at Mancos Town Hall on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 7:30 PM.
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