Cross of snow by Jackson

The original photograph by William Henry Jackson, 1873.


The aging priest stood alone on Horn Silver Mountain, near Shrine Pass, looking across the valley at the cross of snow.

The winter cover had dripped down the Mount of the Holy Cross into the Bowl of Tears, giving the cross a background of bare granite crags. It glistened like gold in the morning sun.

His prayer was that soon there should be a Catholic shrine on this spot from which to view the cross and that someday his Mount of the Holy Cross Pilgrimage would be there greatest annual religious even in the world.

But first, he had to get somebody to build a road up here and that meant dealing with Protestants like Randall and newspaper editors like Daggett, and writing more letters to the Bishop in Denver. Why won’t the bishop just build the road up here from Red Cliff?  With that thought, he stuffed his hat on his head and left his favorite spot.

Father Joseph P. Carrigan was remembered by one of his parishioners as “a crusty old Irishman who insisted upon taking up the collection himself at mass, glaring at you until you had put enough in the basket.  And he readily uncorked his views on politics and the chancery in Denver.”

In 1919, he formed the Mount of the Holy Cross Association along with O.W. Daggett, editor of Red Cliff’s newspaper, and Dr. O.W. Randall, the area’s dentist from Eagle. Together they would attempt to build the road that would bring pilgrims to Shrine Pass and beyond.

Service before the cross

1912 – Service before the cross led by Episcopalian priests.

There was no direct route from Denver to Red Cliff. They proposed that a major highway be built that would come from Denver over Shrine Pass, through Red Cliff, and climb to the top of the Mount of the Holy Cross and then on to Glenwood Springs.  They named it “The Holy Cross Trail.”

The old Irishman negotiated with the Forest Reserve of Denver concerning title to the shrine site and informed the bishop in Denver that “the government might build an open air pavilion.”

By the time he joined with Daggett and Randall, he had written Bishop J. Henry Tihen that the first pilgrimage was imminent adding, “There is not the slightest danger, to my mind, of any Protestant organization coming in with a pilgrimage, before or after us.”

Carrigan continued to lobby Tihen to no avail.  “The erection of a permanent shrine is a matter what will be taken up after the road has been secured,” the bishop wrote.

The Forest Service declined to build the road unless the association could provide the funds.

Daggett was assertive as well, writing editorials about obscure legends surrounding the discovery of the cross by Spanish explorers.  He tried to prove that Evangeline, tragic heroine in Longfellow’s epic point “Evangeline,” had in fact visited the Eagle River Valley.

He expanded the idea of the road from Denver to Red Cliff into “a direct transcontinental ocean-to-ocean route.”

Ten years later, a road to Camp Tigiwon was completed by the Forest Service, funded by contributions from Randall and The Denver Post. That summer, more than 600 people made the pilgrimage.

ski nespaperThe Denver Post pilgrimages continued until 1938, when the famous mountain was included in the Camp Hale Military Reservation and the trail to the Holy Cross was declared “off limits” to the public.

In August, as melting snow trickled down the face of the cross into the Bowl of Tears, J.P Carrigan died.

One year later the route over Vail Pass was dedicated, not as Carrigan, Daggett or Randall Pass, but in honor of Charles D. Vail, the state highway engineer.

In 1940, Daggett sold his newspaper to a man from Nebraska but it ceased publishing a year later. In the same year, William Henry Jackson died at the age of 99. It was Jackson’s original photograph that revealed that the legendary cross of snow on the side of a mountain in Colorado, actually existed.

In 1942, Camp Hale opened as the home of the Tenth Mountain Division and Daggett passed away.

Whatever Daggett’s final thoughts may have been, as he walked around Red Cliff with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his suspended overalls, the dream of the association did not die.

Every year since 1976, Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Vail has lead the only organized pilgrimage to the Cross of Snow.

Next pilgrimage

Vail Daily – Holy Cross or Bust

Manifested on the mountain

Print pagePDF pageEmail page