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?as if here was a great supply store and workshop of Creation, the fountain of Earth.- Samuel Bowles, The Switzerland of America, 1869
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.
William H. Jackson and Thomas Moran
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.