Vail Pass in Summit County, Colorado — The American Mountains (Southwest)
Mount of the Holy Cross
A cross of snow, shining on a mountain-side? Surely just a wilderness mirage. But this rumor (which began circulating in the 1860s) proved to be true. The 1,500 foot tall marvel, mapped and photographed by Ferdinand V. Hayden’s 1873 survey team, struck a chord deep in the nation’s imagination. Poets and painters immortalized it, while hordes of pilgrims trekked westward to see for themselves what must be a divine portent. The difficulty of the journey only made it more meaningful: This was a trial of faith. Shrine Pass Road, dedicated in 1931, brought such a flood of believers that President Herbert Hoover was compelled to place the site under federal management. Years of weathering have blurred the image somewhat, but for many it remains a miraculous sight – a glimmer of redemption, lifting spirits skyward.
To capture the Mount of the Holy Cross on film, photographer William Henry Jackson had his own cross to bear -the sixty pounds of bulky camera equipment he lugged to the top of neighboring Notch Mountain. Jackson, a master shaper of perceptions (his 1873 shots of Yellowstone helped launch the national part movement), framed the mountain as a perfect union of heaven and earth. The photos inspired painter Thomas Moran (himself an accomplished iconographer) to commit this national treasure to canvas. Hovering in the mist above a rugged, Edenic landscape, Moran’s Cross was both a proud defender and a soaring inspiration, beckoning America toward its glorious destiny; though the path may be arduous, God’s grace lay at the end. Such was the promise discerned in that beacon of rock and snow.
Erected 2001 by Colorado Historical Society and the Colorado Department of Transportation. (Marker Number 246.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the History Colorado marker series.
Location. 39° 31.652′ N, 106° 13.083′ W. Marker is in Vail Pass, Colorado, in Summit County. Marker is on Shrine Pass Road (County Road 16) near Interstate 70. At the Vail Pass rest area, off Interstate 70. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Frisco CO 80443, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least Vail / Vail Pass Country (here, next to this marker); 10th Mountain Division (here, next to this marker); Stone Huts (approx. 4.1 miles away); Foote's Rest (approx. 7.3 miles away); Construction of Camp Hale (approx. 8.4 miles away); Kokomo Masonic Lodge (approx. 9.6 miles away); Riverwalk - Blue River Restoration (approx. 9.7 miles away); Soldiers of the Summit (approx. 9.7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Vail Pass.
More about this marker. Captions for the pictures read, from top to bottom:
Mount of the Holy Cross, William Henry Jackson, 1873
Colorado Historical Society
Thomas Moran completed several paintings of the Mount of the Holy Cross – often sacrificing accuracy for artistry. For example in this 1890 version, Moran turned the mountain around in order to juxtapose it with a nearby creek.
Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection
Pilgrimages to the Mount of the Holy Cross became popular after Shrine Pass Road made the remote site more accessible in the 1930s. Today the mountain is the centerpiece and namesake of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area.
Colorado Historical Society
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Credits. This page was last revised on January 5, 2020. This page originally submitted on August 20, 2012, by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia. This page has been viewed 589 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on August 20, 2012, by Kevin W. of Stafford, Virginia.