AS MOUNTAIN territory, Utah encompasses some impressively named summits, such as Mount Timpanogos, Mount Nebo, Deseret Peak and Ensign Peak. Usually overlooked on a list of standout mountainous monikers, however, is Monte Cristo - a Spanish name that means "Mountain of Christ."
Who named Utah's Monte Cristo, a peak topping out at 9,148 feet above sea level near a point where the Rich, Cache and Weber county borders come together, remains a mystery.The original namesake is a barren, granite island in the Mediterranean Sea, located between the west Italian coast and Corsica. The Monte Cristo isle is only 4 square miles but rises 2,000 feet above sea level. It was anciently known as Oglasa. Monks established a monastery on the island in the 1500s but left when pirates attacked. The Italian government tried to set up a penal colony there in the late 1800s, but that didn't work either.
The island became famous when Alex-andre Dumas pere's book "The Count of Monte Cristo" was published in 1845. The story told a fictional tale of a hero who discovered a treasure there. There's also a famous Monte Cristo in Brazil.
Utah's Monte Cristo is located about 13 miles northeast of Pineview Reservoir or about 14 miles southwest of Woodruff as the birds fly. (In highway miles, via the U-39 Scenic Byway, at least double those figures.) The area was the domain of both French-Canadian and American beaver trappers in the 1820s and '30s.
A search for Utah's Monte Cristo, as well as the background of its name, can prove as much a mystery as an adventure. Investigating the history of this mountain range and peak turns up only theories on the name's origination, and locating the specific peak is no simple task.
Capt. Howard Stansbury was the first European-American recorded by name to have traversed the Monte Cristo area into Ogden in 1849. However, he apparently didn't name the mountain.
According to "Five Hundred Utah Place Names," by Rufus Wood Leigh, the name was originally Monte de Cristo, with today's name shortened in hybrid fashion. But who named it is unknown.
The book "Utah Place Names," by John W. Van Cott, offers three theories on how Utah's Monte Cristo received its name:
1. Gold miners thought it resembled the Monte Cristo Mountains in California.
2. An early road builder in the area read the book "The Count of Monte Cristo" to his co-workers and the name stuck.
3. The name was given by early trappers.
Examining the three theories undermines a few of them:
There apparently is no major mountain or mountain range in California named Monte Cristo, putting some doubt on the first. There is, however, a Monte Cristo range in Nevada, near Tonopah. (Since state lines were poorly defined at the time, the gold miners who might have named Utah's Monte Cristo could be given the benefit of the doubt, since they may have believed the western Nevada Cristo mountains were in California.)
"Rich Memories," a book by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, sides with gold miner theory.
The second theory is questionable since the main road construction project in the Monte Cristo area was part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project in the 1930s.
Arch McKinnon Jr. spearheaded the effort to establish a gravel road from Woodruff to the summit in 1931. Today, McKinnon Peak, a mile north of Monte Cristo Peak, is named in his honor. In 1960, this road was improved and paved.
William W. Terry, 90, an Ogden-area historian, remembers taking a horse ride through the Monte Cristo area in 1913 at age 8 on a zig-zag trail. Terry said the area was definitely called Monte Cristo even then - before there was a road. Terry doesn't know where the Monte Cristo name came from, either.
The third theory seems more plausible, but most trappers were in northern Utah during the 1820s and 1830s. The Dumas novel that made the name famous to the non-Spanish wasn't published until 1845 - a decade or two after the heyday of the trappers. If some of the trappers in the area were Spanish, they would have been the logical candidates for naming it.
However, would this Spanish nickname have been public enough to stick around some 25 or more years until pioneer settlers came to the Ogden Valley? Not likely, and so this makes the gold miner theory the most plausible of all explanations.
A visit to the Monte Cristo area today only deepens the mystery of this colorful name, since locating the peak itself is a difficult task. It requires a detailed map to even be able to pinpoint the actual Monte Cristo Peak. Nearby Mount McKinnon (9,081 feet) is well-marked by signs. Monte Cristo Peak, which is even closer to U-39, isn't marked by signs. Nor does it stand out as a particularly impressive peak.
Monte Cristo Peak is not a highly visible peak from nearby valleys. When climbing up U-39 from Weber County, the peak remains hidden until the summit summit is reached. From Ogden Valley/Huntsville, Monte Cristo is mostly overshadowed by the mountain saddle to the west, which includes Powder Mountain. From Ogden or Davis County, the peak remains hidden behind the taller Wasatch Mountain range.
Neither does Monte Cristo stand tall from the Woodruff side, blending in with the surrounding mountains. Only from atop Mount Ogden, Ben Lomond Peak or similar lofty Wasatch summits is Monte Cristo likely visible from a distance.
Monte Cristo Peak is the tallest in the mountainous stretch between Hardware Ranch and Causey Reservoir, but not by much. It is a mere 140 feet above U-39.
The Monte Cristo area is a beautiful mountain region, though. Looking east or west, the green forests, plateaus and valleys below resemble a paradise.
Today, references to Monte Cristo usually take in the entire mountain range - almost more like a plateau - to most people. The Scenic Byway is a popular drive, and the U.S. Forest Service's Monte Cristo campground, at about 8,600 feet above sea level, offers 53 camping units and is open June to September. The campground is located off U-39 about a mile north of the peak.
Weber County didn't pay much attention to the Monte Cristo area until 1882, when lumbering expanded eastward. Excessive lumbering and cattle grazing continued there until the 1920s.
Nearby are Little Monte Peak and a Little Monte Spring. A "Cristo" peak, at 9,045 feet above sea level, is three miles to the northeast.