Angel of Shavano - Atlas Obscura

Angel of Shavano

Maysville, Colorado

This distinctive snowfield on the slopes of a Colorado fourteener has several legendary origin stories. 


Each spring, the snows of the southern Rocky Mountains begin to melt, bringing fresh water down the slopes. This water feeds the forests, streams, and rivers, and in turn, the drinking water, agriculture, and tourism that fuels the entire region. The eastern face of Mount Shavano in particular manifests the image of an angel in its snowfields, providing a symbol for the gift of fresh water.

Geologists and climate specialists might explain this annual phenomenon by referencing the shape and temperatures of Shavano’s slopes. Others, however, have far more interesting explanations.

The most popular origin myth of the Angel of Shavano begins with a drought. As the valley dried up and game became scarce, an Indian princess went to the foot of Mount Shavano to pray for water. The gods agreed to bring the water back, but on the condition that the princess sacrificed herself. The princess agreed, and the gods transformed her into an angel. Each spring, she cries for her people, bringing fresh water to the valley below.

Another legend includes the mountain’s namesake, Chief Shavano of the Tabeguache band of Southern Utes. According to the story, Shavano befriended a white scout named George Beckworth. When the chief’s friend became injured, he prayed at the foot of the mountain for the gods to help him. The gods then made an angel on the mountain’s slopes to send a sign that the prayer had been heard and answered.

There are several other versions of the tale, with some including the god Jupiter turning a girl into a snowfield as a punishment, or casting Beckworth as a freedman named Jim. Whatever the cause of the annual apparition, the Angel of Shavano has continued to reliably appear and bring fresh water to the grateful people of the valley.

Know Before You Go

As a seasonal snowfield, the Angel of Shavano can be hard to see at times. Winter is definitely out, as the mountain will be completely covered in snow. Late summer will have the opposite effect, with the snow being almost entirely melted. Springtime is the best time to see the angel, as that is when the snow around the figure melts. Late fall and its temperature swings may also bring the arrival of the angel on certain occasions.

The angel can be easily seen from US Highway 285, north of Poncha Springs and Salida. There are lots of pullouts you can use to safely observe the mountain. Make sure you find a safe place to park, as most other drivers will be zipping up and down the highway. Intrepid explorers may also try to reach the angel itself by climbing Shavano via the standard route, though winter gear will be required when it is visible.

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