Red Mountain cross shines on thanks to efforts of volunteers |

Red Mountain cross shines on thanks to efforts of volunteers

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Kelley Cox Post IndependentBJ Lewis climbed onto the base of the Red Mountain Cross to replace a wire nut on Thursday. BJ is the son of Bruce and Ann Lewis, members of the Red Mountain Cross Preservation Association. The organization has maintained the cross for the past 20 years.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – The Red Mountain cross is once again shining down on Glenwood Springs for the season of advent. It’s a community tradition now in its 60th year.

Standing 66 feet tall and perched at the top of the ridge of Red Mountain, on the west side of Glenwood Springs, the cross can at times appear to be suspended in mid-air, it’s up so high.

The blazing symbol of Christianity is the project of a community group, the nonprofit Red Mountain Cross Preservation Association, now in its 20th year of maintaining the structure.

The cross is lit by power from the city’s electric grid surging through approximately 166 bulbs made of clear glass, mounted in pairs and burning at 25 watts per bulb.

Bruce Lewis, chairman of the association, said the group tried higher-wattage bulbs at first, but found that they didn’t last very long. The clear, 25-watt bulbs seem plenty bright and last a lot longer.

Although a sensor turns the lights off during the day and back on at night, Lewis or another member of the association must go to the top of Red Mountain to turn the master switch on for the cross to be lit, and again to turn it off.

The cross is lit for Veterans Day, the period from a week before Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, and from the Friday before Palm Sunday to Easter.

The schedule has varied on special occasions, said Lewis.

For example, the cross was lit as soon as news spread of the terrorist attacks against U.S. targets on Sept. 11, 2001, and left on over the ensuing days.

It was lit again a decade later, in memory of those killed that day and to recognize the nation’s heightened vigilance against future attacks.

A cross, in one form or another and from a couple of different locations, has periodically cast its lights over Glenwood Springs from the side of Red Mountain since 1951.

But the tradition of posting a light on the hill started 50 years earlier.

According to an account written by Lewis for the association newsletter, the tradition began in 1901 to honor the passing of a noted community member.

In memory of local gold prospector William Grandstaff, who mined for gold west of town, the community “lit a cross-shaped tree on the side of Red Mountain above his grave,” according to Lewis’ account.

Half a century later, on July 19, 1951, Lewis learned from his research, five workers with the Glenwood Springs Electric department decided to the replace the fallen cross.

“They hauled a 40- by 18-foot wooden cross, lights and electrical equipment on a toboggan to a low ridge of Red Mountain,” Lewis wrote. “Electricity for the cross was provided by a powerline from the Red Mountain ski tow.”

That cross, erected on city property, stood for 40 years. But in 1991, some Glenwood Springs residents and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the city over its hosting of a religious symbol on city property. After reaching a settlement, the city dismantled the cross.

The Red Mountain Cross Preservation Association formed five days later to replace the cross. The group found a willing landlord and erected a new, bigger cross on private property at the top of the Red Mountain ridge overlooking the city. The tradition continued.

Not that it has been all light and no effort to keep the tradition alive.

Lewis, like those before him, maintains the structure, replaces bulbs as they burn out or get broken, and fixes wiring and other equipment when it fails. The bulbs are donated by local businesses.

Every two or three years, Lewis said, he replaces all the bulbs at once.

He recalled that he and his wife, Ann, used to climb the hill on foot to get to the site with their two kids, BJ and Krystine, in packs.

These days BJ, now 21, helps with the maintenance duties.

“I love being part of it,” Lewis said of his task, adding that his son feels the same.

“He loves doing it,” he explained. “He loves to climb the tower and work on it.”

Now, he said gratefully, there is a road, maintained by developers of a nearby subdivision, that permits him to drive up to the site for maintenance duties.

Lewis said that as much as the cross is a focus of community pride, there have been times when it came under attack, and not just from the ACLU.

For instance, he said, vandals once painted the bulbs green and red, so they all had to be replaced outside the normal routine.

And on Nov. 1, 1998, he said, the town awoke to the news that someone used a hacksaw to cut the aluminum poles that make up the structure, and the cross toppled to the ground.

The community rallied and crews of volunteers rebuilt the frame to its current height, reinforced the structure to foil similar attacks, retrofitted a gas-station fuel tank to create a protective base around the cross, and had it all finished in time for the traditional lighting at Thanksgiving.

Lewis said the association is interested in finding sites in the area to put up more crosses, and has enough money saved up to erect at least one new cross and possibly two.

“If we had a site, we’d do it next year,” Lewis said.

He said donations come in regularly from the community, and the association’s costs are low – a couple of small checks annually pay for electricity and insurance.

A patch of ground about 150 by 150 feet, visible from a community or a long distance, is the basic requirement the group is looking for, he said.

“We are totally open,” he said. “We haven’t focused on any single area yet,” he said. The association would consider sites in the Roaring Fork Valley or Colorado River valley.

For information or to donate, contact Lewis at 945-5252, ext. 2.

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