angel of shavano

Beautiful and Historic Peaks in Chaffee County, Colorado 

Mt. Ouray

If you’re interested in knowing more about the history of the Arkansas River valley, just look around. Not only are the mountains surrounding Chaffee County and Monarch Pass beautiful, their names also tell the story of the people and times that came before us. Peaks like Mt. Ouray, Mt. Chipeta, and Mt. Shavano, among others, hold historic significance and represent important events and individuals. 

At Creekside Chalets, we’ve named our cabins and campsites after these beautiful peaks in our valley. Looking at the people and folk tales behind these mountains gives great insight into the history of the area we now call home. 

Colorado Peaks Named for Native American Leaders 

Chaffee County and the surrounding areas were historically inhabited by Native American communities, primarily the Ute tribe. Before westward expansion brought white settlers and miners seeking to conquer the riches in the area, this beautiful valley was the home, hunting ground and spiritual center of the Ute tribe.  

Mt. Ouray (13,961 feet).  This peak was named for Chief  Ouray, one of the most influential members of the Ute Tribe. Ouray was chief of the Tabeguache band of the Utes and was originally from the area around Taos, NM. 

Ouray became Chief during a time of great change. Westward expansion was rampant and Ouray believed that there was no winning in the battle against white settlers, choosing treaties over fighting. He was known as the “man of peace” and many count him for saving many lives, both his tribal members and white settlers. 

Ouray traveled frequently to represent the Ute tribe in Washington D.C. where he advocated for the rights of his people. He met with Presidents Lincoln, Grant, and Hayes and was called the “man of peace.”  Ouray spoke Spanish, Ute, Apache, and some English and he was known for attempting to find common ground in times of strife. 

Ouray’s efforts unfortunately did not bring equity for his people within government policy. Their lands were eventually stripped and the tribe was relocated to an arid reservation in Utah, a spot unsuitable for farming. He was often found at odds with both white settlers and his own people, with some feeling that he should have fought harder against expansion. However, Ouray was greatly respected among many and the naming of Mt. Ouray commemorates his legacy and his efforts to seek peace in turbulent times. 

Chipeta Peak (13,495 feet). The story of Chipeata’s life is a story of change and perseverance. This fits incredibly well with the story that accompanies the naming and subsequent renaming of her namesake peak in the Sawatch Range. 

Chipeta, whose name means White Singing Bird, began life in a Kiowa (Plains) Apache tribe but she was adopted by the Uncompahgre Utes as a young girl. Some stories say she was found alone as a toddler, the only survivor in a camp surprised by an enemy. 

When she was 16, Chief Ouray’s wife Black Mare died. Chipeta stepped in to care for their child, Pahlone, and she soon married Ouray. He was 26.  

Just as Chief Ouray earned a reputation as a fair man dedicated to peace for his people, Chipeta developed a reputation as an influential woman. In the 1800’s it was rare to see women given positions of leadership, but Chipeta traveled often with Ouray and was treated as an equal. She visited women in other tribes and shared their perspectives in places where the thoughts and contributions of women were not often considered. 

After Ouray’s death in 1880, Chipeta continued to be a representative of her people. She spoke for Native rights and for women. She lived in Utah on the reservation until she was 81 and became a well-known figure both in her tribe and in the nation. She is in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and is one of 16 women commemorated on a tapestry hanging in the Colorado State building. 

chaffee county mountain range
Photo by Wojtek Rychlik, Pikes Peak Photo

Chipeta’s life was fascinating, but so was the naming of her mountain. Chipeta Peak sits to the west of Mt. Ouray. However, in the original survey records, Chipeta Peak was not the highest point of her namesake mountain. Instead, a lower point, slightly behind and out of sight, bore her name while the higher peak remained “unnamed.” 

Activists took up the charge to move the name Chipeta from the 12,850 foot sub peak to the 13,472-foot highpoint. This historic move was completed in 2022 and is documented on the Chipeta Rising website. There is also an area dedicated to Chipeta on the S Mountain trail system above Salida. It’s known as Mountain Heritage Park and includes informational signage about Chipeta, her life, her family and the renaming of her peak. 

Pahlone Peak (12,667 feet). Chief Ouray had a son with his first wife, Black Mare. They named him Queashegut but his nickname was Pahlone. When his mother passed away in 1859, Chipeta stepped in to help care for him. Ouray and Chipeta were soon married, and she raised Pahlone as her son. 

When Pahlone was 5 years old, Chipeta and Ouray took him with them on a buffalo hunting expedition. When the enemies attacked, Pahlone was lost. The story is not certain, but some believe that Pahlone left the safety of the tepee where he and Chipeta were hiding to follow the men into battle. When the dust settled, Ouray and Chipeta searched for Pahlone but never found him. They later learned he had been kidnapped and sent to live with a band of the Arapaho tribe. 

Ouray and Chipeta were devastated. Ouray never stopped looking for his son but his attempts were in vain. They were never reunited. Some accounts say that Ouray managed to send a message to Pahlone and set up a meeting, but that Pahlone was killed in a traveling accident while on the road to Ute lands. 

Whether this story of an attempted reunion is true seems a mystery, but a peak named in Pahlone’s honor sits to the west of his parents in the Sawatch range. 

Mt. Shavano (14,235 feet). Not only is this 14er the namesake of a Ute chief and warrior, it’s also known for the recognizable “angel” that appears on the mountain when the snow begins to melt. 

Chief Shavano, like Ouray, was known as a peacemaker among white settlers and his tribe. He fought for recognition and awareness of the Ute’s plight and spoke against fighting and the land grab of the government. He traveled with Ouray to meet with politicians in Washington D.C. 

At the end of his life, Chief Shavano was forced to leave Colorado in 1881 with the rest of his tribe. He  lived on the Ute reservation in Utah until his death in 1886.

The Legend of The Angel of Shavano Near Salida, Colorado 

Today, this mountain is known not only for the Ute warrior chief, but also for the famous “Angel of Shavano.” This snowmelt is famous in Chaffee County–when you visit, you’ll find a variety of references to this well-known natural landmark. You’ll also find just as many different versions of the “legend” that tells the angel’s tale. 

In some versions, the angel was a young Ute girl who prayed for water during a drought. Sometimes it is said that her prayers were answered and that after the storm, the angel appeared for the first time. Other stories claim she sacrificed herself to save her tribe. After her death, they claim, she became the angel that brought the life-saving water, an angel who is still visible to this day. 

Other stories of this mountain focus on Chief Shavano himself. After making many prayers for his people (and in some versions a sick friend) the angel came in response to his wishes and returned year after year. 

There are many versions of this tale. Which is the right one? It’s impossible to say, but one thing’s for sure: the Angel of Shavano has made her mark. She is one of the most recognizable natural landmarks in Salida. When you drive through Salida between April and June, and sometimes even in mid-winter after a dry spell, you’ll see her wings spread wide above the Arkansas River Valley. 

Creekside Chalet’s Campsites

We feel blessed to have a beautiful piece of property near these historic mountains. It seemed only appropriate to name our cabins and campsites after these impressive peaks. 

For our three campsites, Mt. Chipeta, Mt. Ouray and Mt. Pahlone, we chose to pay homage to the famous Ute leaders and their son. We debuted these beautiful spots in the summer of 2023 and all of them sit right on the creek running through our 10 acre property. We love that the Chipeta Rising project brought the story of Chipeta’s back into mainstream consciousness and are happy to be reminded of her important legacy. 

We hope you come join us soon and see the beauty of these majestic peaks for yourself! We think that our property is the perfect home base for any mountain adventure you have planned here in our beautiful corner of the world.