The Legends of Colorado’s Mt. Shavano Angel
This snow formation emerges from the east face of the mountain each spring. Travel to the San Isabel National Forest in Chaffee County, Colorado, and you might get your chance to see it.
Colorado's Legendary Angel of Shavano
The snow angel gracing Mt. Shavano outside of Salida has three different legends of its origins. The unusual part is even though they are widely different, the legends all share a similar theme.
The Mt. Shavano angel can be seen in spring after most of the snow has melted off the mountain. The website summitpost.org states, "In spring and early summer the snow-filled gullies resemble an angel with upstretched wings."
There are three legends commonly associated with the origin of the Angel of Shavano. Which one of these three legends is true? That is up for discussion. Regardless, all of them are fascinating stories of how important the snow on Mt. Shavano is to people in the upper Arkansas River valley.
In this legend, the God Jupiter exiled a young goddess whose unpredictable and mischievous behavior annoyed him. Jupiter turned the young goddess into an angel of ice and told her she would be stuck to Mt. Shavano until tragedy struck the humans in the valley below.
One year, there was very little snow. A severe drought brought on sickness and death. This made the goddess angel cry which caused her body of ice to break apart and fall towards the valley. As it traveled down the mountain, the ice melted and filled the river with water ending the drought.
The goddess Jupiter returned and told the angel she was freed and could leave the mountain. The angel told Jupiter she wanted to stay so she could care for the people below. The request was granted but only on the condition; that the angel would melt away every spring.
The Indian Princess
The valley below Mt. Shavano was at one time occupied by Indians who found the fertile area ideal for hunting, fishing, and other food sources. A year of little snow in the mountains left the valley so dry the Indians were forced to start searching for another place to live.
An Indian princess, heartbroken at the prospect of having to move, went to the base of the mountain and prayed, asking the spirits to end the drought. The Indian god of plenty said he would answer her prayer, but only if she sacrificed herself to the gods.
The god then transformed the princess into the Angel of Mt. Shavano. Each spring, the princess reappears and cries for her people. The tears melt the ice and snow and provide water to the river and streams below.
This legend is lesser-known but still part of the history of how the angel came to be. The Indian Chief Shavano lived in the valley below the mountain and became close friends with a freed slave and mountain man named Jim Beckwourth. Another version of the story tells of Chief Shavano's friendship with a scout named George Beckwith.
In both stories, the chief's friend was severely injured in an accident. The chief went to the base of Mt. Shavano to pray for his friend. As a sign the spirits had heard his prayer, an angel of snow appeared on the side of Mt. Shavano.
How To Find The Angel of Shavano
- From Poncha Springs go west on US50 from the junction of US50 andUS285 for 6.1 miles.
- Turn north onto County 240 for 3.8 miles to the trailhead. The road is paved most of the way and is accessible by passenger car.