In the mid-1980s, in an act of equal parts devotion and audacity, three local Hispanic men belonging to a Catholic sect known as Los Hermanos Penitente (the Penitente Brotherhood) painted a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe high up on the walls of Penitente Canyon.
Formerly called Capulin Canyon after the wild cherry bushes that are abundant in the area, the canyon gets its current name from the mysterious religious group that took refuge in these remote hills starting in the early 1900s. According to the local legend, the Hermanos Penitente behind the mural used three lariats tied together and an old car tire to suspend themselves and their paints from the canyon wall. They used cans of house paint in a pallet of red, blue, black, and white to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe (also called Our Lady of Guadalupe), who represents the Virgin Mary as she appeared in a vision to a Catholic saint. Above the mural, the men wrote what’s believed to be the words “Consuelo y Espiritu,” or “Comfort and Courage,” and they signed their names below. The rock face is now known as “Virgin Wall.”
Long before the Penitente Brotherhood, the canyon was home to American Indian tribes (likely Apache, Ute, or Navajo), as evidenced by pictographs found on the rocks depicting game drives with “nets” across the mouth of the canyon to trap animals. Today, the area is a haven for rock climbers drawn by the steep canyon walls.
Know Before You Go
Penitente Canyon is located north of Del Norte, Colorado, on Rio Grande County Road 40G. A campground can be found near the mouth of the canyon and two parking areas are about a 3/4-mile from the intersection of Road 40G.