Hike #62 – Cross Mountain Success!

May 30, 2012 – A smoky hike to the top of Cross Mountain

The Silver City, NM area is currently experiencing heavy smoke conditions due to the Whitewater-Baldy Fire happening to our west and north. It was likely started by a lightning strike and has grown to 152,000 acres (238 square miles!) For more information on this event, check out:  http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2870/

Even though the smoke was scratching my throat, my muscles and my dog were itching to go for a hike. I haven’t hiked since May 12th — 18 days — and I truly needed a hiking fix. Lynn was also ready for some activity so we headed out towards Cross Mountain. A few hikes ago, (see hike #60 on May 9th) I walked Cross Mountain Rd and then afterwards made some inquiries as to how it got its’ name. Apparently, a rather large white cross is on top of a mountain there which I missed during my first investigation.

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With directions from Tyler Connolly, we set out on a hike. Lynn and I haven’t seen each other in a long time so it was good to catch up. The trail meandered along an old road and we finally reached a marker, just as Tyler described. We climbed up the slope, through the trees, passing the white-markings on the trees as the path rises. Now I could make all kinds of remarks about ascending upwards towards the heavens, reaching towards the light, being closer to GOD, and all that, but I won’t….. that would be too cliché.

We are rewarded with a hazy, smoky view to the south and a beautiful white cross. And for you few people who told me, “You can’t miss it”, we never saw it until we were on top of the mountain. When we later looked from the road below, it was barley visible – VERY easy to miss. Perhaps it was the gray, smoky sky that had us missing it; maybe it was a sign from above that I just didn’t receive.

Here is a reprint of the story of the cross:

Cross Mountain does not appear on most maps, and tourists driving the narrow road that winds through the old mining town of Pinos Altos rarely look up. But even when no one sees it, a tall white cross on this high mountain peak keeps solitary vigil in the same spot Santiago Brito placed the first – a big wooden cross – as a sign of peace between settlers and the nearby Apaches. It is believed that this first cross was covered with tin so the sun and moonlight would keep it always visible.

The cross quickly changed into a religious symbol, and townspeople made pilgrimages to the top – some climbing barefoot up the steep, rocky mountainside. The people called the church they were building in 1888 the Holy Cross Church, even though technically it was St. Alexis.

Each year on the eve of Holy Cross Day (May 3), bonfires were lighted at the church and up near the cross as sticks of dynamite were set off alternately between the two locations. The following morning a Mass was held, followed by a procession of the faithful up the mountain, winding their way as they recited the rosary. Children were kept out of school in order to take part in this celebration, and families shared picnic lunches on the mountaintop before starting the long walk back together.

Time and weather took their toll on the first wooden cross, and in 1907 Frank Bell, son-in-law of Santiago Brito, replaced it with a new wooden one.

Manuel Gutierrez was born in the shadow of the Bell cross and grew up watching the white paint fading away as the wood deteriorated. It had stood for 50 years, and he knew it couldn’t survive much longer. He wanted to do more than merely replace it with another cross of wood. He wanted something that would last long after he was gone. The iron cross that he and a few friends created is the one you see today, standing tall on the mountaintop near the stump of that first cross – a sign of hope and peace, of peregrinaciones y promesas.

To reach Cross Mountain, take N.M. 15 (Pinos Altos Road) out of Silver City to Pinos Altos; continue on N.M. 15 to a street sign on the right that marks the turnoff. A dirt road (bear right at the fork) will take you to the base of the mountain where the walking trail upward begins. To see the remains of the Bell cross, visit the Log Cabin Museum (now known as the Pinos Altos Historical Museum) on Main Street in Pinos Altos, 575-388-1882.

This article was written by Jody Lyons-Cline and published in New Mexico Magazine in May 2001.

2.95 miles / 2.5 hours

62 down / 38 to go


About Gila Hiker

First I hiked 100 different trails in a year, now I write a monthly article in Desert Exposure about a local hike. Come on out to Silver City..... and bring your hiking gear!

Posted on May 30, 2012, in CD Trail, Challenge, Continental Divide, Gila National Forest, Hiking, Nature, New Mexico, Outdoor Activities, Outdoors, Silver City, Southwest and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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