Mesa Verde: Indian Arts and Culture Festival

One of the top 100 events in North America — so named by the American Bus Association — will take place May 27-June 5 at Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado.

The 11th annual Mesa Verde Country Indian Arts and Culture Festival will highlight the traditions, arts and culture of the Native American tribes in the area and the archeological surroundings they call home. The communities of Cortez, Dolores, Mancos and Towaoc will join in the festival, whose theme is “Celebrate our Song.”

A Native American couple dancing at the festival.

“May is archaeology month in Colorado and there is no better place to celebrate than Mesa Verde Country,” says Gaylene Ore, festival spokeswoman. “Archaeology ties all of us to the heritage we proudly share with the ancestral Puebloan people from the past and the Native Americans living here today.”

The festival also will highlight many of the area’s past citizens, including ranchers, miners, cowboys, farmers and railroad men.

This year’s lineup has a juried Indian art market and auction, with Pueblo, Zuni, Hopi, Navajo, Ute and Apache artists’ works up for grabs — all of whom claim a Mesa Verde heritage, according to Ore.

Featured artist Valerie Namoki is a Hopi Indian potter who inherited her skills from her grandmother and father. One of her pieces, “Butterfly Mana,” will be up for sale during the festival’s raffle.

A number of educational events also will take place, including a Navajo rug seminar and auction. Visitors can sample traditional foods between cultural programs such as a Native American concert or watch Native American dancers.

At the nearby Anasazi Heritage Center a special featured exhibit — “Sacred Images: A Vision of Native American Rock Art” — will combine the striking photos of three wilderness photographers with the unique storytelling of the indigenous people to present Utah rock art.

On Saturday during the festival, visitors can explore the Ute Mountain Tribal Park on three special tours — the Porcupine House, Ute Petroglyph and Anasazi Sun Calendars and Petroglyphs tours — led by a Ute guide through the ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) dwellings and other areas around the park.

Tree House site in Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

“The Porcupine House and Ute Petroglyph tour is a mixture of historic and prehistoric, and focuses on the ancestral Puebloans, so it will deal with Ute history,” says Jacob Dance, Ute Mountain Tribal Park office manager. “Sun Calendar is mainly [in] the Sun Calendar Star Park — they’ll go over [the petroglyphs] and explain how they interact with the solstice.”

The Tribal Park also will host an open house May 28 at the visitor’s center, which will include a Native American storytelling session and a Ute giveaway and raffle.

While the festival attracts several hundred people a day, the experience remains intimate as the crowd divides itself between the performances, Indian art market, auction and other activities.

“One of the things we’re trying to stay away from is being like the Santa Fe Indian art festival where it’s so crowded you can’t even see the artists,” says Lynn Dyer of the Mesa Verde Country Visitor Information Bureau.

Although Mesa Verde is a 7- to 8-hour drive from Denver, the area holds many attractions in addition to the festival that make for a full weekend stay.

“You could spend two to three days just exploring the park,” says Dyer. “Plus there’s Hovenweep and Canyon of the Ancients, two national monuments.”

In addition to Saturday’s special tours in the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, normal guided tours are available daily and are often less crowded than the tours associated with the festival.

“For the normal tours, we don’t usually get more than 10 people a day,” Dance says. “It’s not as packed… so it’s more personal, which visitors to our park really like.”

A young Navajo boy performs a cultural dance for spectators.

After a full day of attending the festival or exploring Mesa Verde, travelers will need a place to rest and there are plenty of options for whatever lodging style you’re looking for.

“We’re a gateway community to a national park, so there’s the park lodge, hotels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, guesthouses, vacation rentals… we have a full choice of places to stay,” Dyer says.

If You Go

Click Here to learn more about Mesa Verde Country.

Indian Arts and Culture Festival: The festival itself, held in Mesa Verde National Park, is free, but there is a park entry fee ($10 per vehicle before May 29; $15 after). The rug auction, Indian art market and Indian dances are free; $10 per person for the concert; $3 per person entrance fee for Anasazi Heritage Center.

For a full schedule of festival events, visit

Ute Mountain Tribal Park Tours: $29 per person. Tour times: Porcupine, 9:10 a.m.–3 p.m.; Petroglyph, 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sun Calendars, 9 a.m.–noon and 1:30 p.m.–4:30 p.m.

Native American storytelling at the visitor’s center will be held 8:30 a.m.–9:30 a.m.; Ute giveaway and raffle, 9:30 a.m. Raffle tickets are $5 or $25 for six.