The Notch Mountain Shelter was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 as a shelter for pilgrims coming to see nearby Mount of the Holy Cross. Located on the south shoulder of Notch Mountain at an elevation of about 13,100 feet, the rustic stone shelter is near the spot where in 1873 William Henry Jackson took photographs that made Mount of the Holy Cross famous. Still used by hikers in the Holy Cross Wilderness, the shelter was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
Holy Cross Pilgrimages
The Notch Mountain Shelter is associated with two early twentieth-century developments: first, the rise of nationwide pilgrimages to Mount of the Holy Cross; and second, the improvement of national forests for recreational use.
Mount of the Holy Cross was named for the 1,500-foot-high cross formed by snowy crevasses on its northeastern face. It was described as early as the mid-1800s but did not become famous until the 1870s, when an 1873 photograph that William Henry Jackson took from Notch Mountain and an 1875 painting by Thomas Moran made the mountain into a renowned Christian symbol. Pilgrimages to view the mountain gradually grew in popularity.
In 1912 Episcopal Bishop Benjamin Brewster made the first recorded pilgrimage to the top of Notch Mountain, where he performed the Holy Eucharist under the sign of the giant snowy cross. In 1927 R. O. Randall began to lead pilgrimages to Notch Mountain, and in 1928 Denver Post owner Frederick Bonfils started to promote the pilgrimages and push for better access to the Holy Cross area. On May 11, 1929, President Herbert Hoover declared nearly 1,400 acres around Mount of the Holy Cross and Notch Mountain to be a national monument.
Meanwhile, recreational use across the national forests had been increasing steadily since the 1910s. In 1933 the US Forest Service began using New Deal programs to develop new recreational resources such as trails, campgrounds, and shelters. Because of the growing number of pilgrims visiting Holy Cross National Monument—600 came in 1932, 800 in 1933—it was a clear choice for new infrastructure investment and facilities construction. Using labor from the Tigiwon CCC camp near Minturn, in 1933–34 the Forest Service quickly developed the Tigiwon Community House to serve as a base for pilgrims, the Notch Mountain Shelter to provide a protected spot for viewing Mount of the Holy Cross, and a network of hiking trails—including a trail up Notch Mountain.
The Notch Mountain Shelter was the most remote new facility in Holy Cross National Monument and probably the most difficult to build. It was a small, single-room stone building located above 13,000 feet on the south shoulder of Notch Mountain. Workers had to erect eighteen-inch-thick stone walls and build a massive stone fireplace to protect pilgrims from the harsh alpine environment. They also had to use mules to haul up timber for the door and roof—the shelter was far above tree line—and glass for the windows facing west toward Mount of the Holy Cross.
Thanks in part to the new facilities and trails developed by the Forest Service and the CCC, in 1934 the number of pilgrims to Holy Cross National Monument climbed to 3,000.
Pilgrimages to Mount of the Holy Cross declined soon after the Notch Mountain Shelter was built. The journey was arduous, and its main promoter, Bonfils, died in 1933. Attendance began to drop in 1935, and the last pilgrimage was held in 1938. In 1950 the superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park, who administered Holy Cross National Monument, recommended that national monument status be retracted because fewer than fifty people visited the area each year. The land reverted to Forest Service control, and in 1980 it became part of the Holy Cross Wilderness.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the development of nearby resorts at Vail and Beaver Creek and the growing popularity of outdoor recreation made the Notch Mountain Shelter a popular summer hiking destination. By the 1990s its windows, door, roof, and joists were all in need of repair. In 1998 the Forest Service replaced the door and windows, reshingled the awnings, and added a support brace to a rotten roof joist. Another round of major repairs came in 2010, when the roof and door were replaced, the fireplace was repaired, new benches were installed, and graffiti was removed.
Today about 1,500 people per year hike roughly five miles from Tigiwon Road on Fall Creek Trail and Notch Mountain Trail to visit the shelter, where they can rest and enjoy the panoramic view.