W.H. Jackson, 1873

Thomas Moran, 1875

D&RG RR guide cover


mountain of the holy cross

Hidden deep in the Colorado Rockies is the Mountain of the Holy Cross, standing at a majestic 14,004 feet.

Once only legend, it remained allusive to early travelers in an almost inaccessible range of mountains. Early map makers had misplaced it on their maps by as much as 30 miles.

Snow covered the cross from view for all but 2-3 months of the year, with only rumors of its existence.

The earliest recorded account of spotting the mountain was made by writer, Samual Bowles who reported seeing it from Grays Peak, 40 miles away.

Bowles wrote in his 1869 book, The Switzerland of America, about the Mountain of the Holy Cross...

"...Over one of the largest and finest, the snow fields lay in the form of an immense cross, and by this it is known in all the mountain views of the territory. It is as if God has set His sign, His seal, His promise there--a beacon upon the very center and height of the Continent to all its people and all its generations..."

In the summer of 1873 Ferdinand Hayden conducted an expedition for the U.S. Geological service to this remote region in hopes of finding the illusive mountain.

Photographer William Henry Jackson, a member of the Hayden team, made the first photograph of the Holy Cross from the summit of Notch Mountain to the east.

Western artist, Thomas Moran accompanied Hayden's 2nd expedition the following year to view this unusual natural symbol.

Moran's painting of the Mountain of the Holy Cross was finished in 1875 and measured approximately 7' x 5'.

Both the Jackson and Moran pictures were exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. The public was enthralled by the religious implications of this natural wonder.

The Christian tradition of the 19th and early 20th century in America saw it as a sign and promise by God of this nations sovereignty and power.

Some travelers reported as they got closer to the mountain it would mysteriously disappear, adding to the supernatural beliefs about it.

The Mountain of the Holy Cross was said to have restorative powers for the sick. By the early 1920's people began making pilgrimages to view the mountain.

The Denver Post reported in 1930 that...

"There is an unusual number of persons this year who are afflicted with serious maladies that have defied the best efforts of medical science: they hope that a sight of the Holy Cross, coupled with firm faith in divine power, will accomplish cures. Certainly such cures have resulted from the pilgrimages of the last two years..."

Among the most avid supporters of the Holy Cross was the Denver Rio Grande Railroad. To increase tourist traffic to the site they hired artist, Thomas Moran to create wood engravings for their railroad publications.

The Notch Mountain site was designated as the Holy Cross National Monument by President Herbert Hoover in 1929 but was later revoked in 1950 because of declining visitation and erosion of the cross's right arm, seriously marring the image.

A commemorative stamp was issued in 1951 on the occasion of Colorado's 75th Statehood Anniversary showing the Cross in a collage with the State Capitol and the Columbine flower.

Mountain of the Holy Cross is located approximately 100 miles west of Denver and about 15 miles south of Vail, Colorado in the Sawatch mountain range.