Kit Carson’s Cross Receives Recognition on National Register of Historic Places

Kit Carson’s cross on Fremont Island is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. The cross was carved into the rock in 1843 by Kit Carson, who explored the area with the island’s namesake, John C. Fremont.

SALT LAKE (May 30, 2024) – Kit Carson’s Cross, an iconic symbol that rests at the highest point of Fremont Island on the Great Salt Lake, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) by the National Park Service.  

“The National Register of Historic Places is a powerful tool that allows our Division, as the landowner, to further protect and enhance appreciation of Fremont Island’s cultural resources,” said Marisa Weinberg, Great Salt Lake Coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. “The listing of Kit Carson’s Cross emphasizes the massive importance of a small rock etching to the entire state of Utah.”

Kit Carson’s Cross was created on September 9, 1843, by American frontiersman Christoper “Kit” Carson during John C. Fremont’s expedition to explore the Great Basin. The cross is inscribed on a stone outcropping at Castle Rock on the island’s summit. The symbol measures six inches tall and three and a half inches wide. 

Kit Carson’s Cross is the second NRHP listing on the Great Salt Lake. Black Rock was added to the National Register in 2021 and was the first site on Great Salt Lake to receive this recognition.  

History of the Cross and the Fremont Expedition

In 1843, Fremont undertook a second expedition to the West, where Carson guided the expedition party. Fremont had heard stories about an inland sea, and while exploring the Bear River, he realized that he was on a main tributary of the Great Salt Lake and decided to explore the lake.

After splitting his party, Fremont, along with Carson, selected seven men to explore the Great Salt Lake with him. The group saw the lake for the first time on September 6th.

Fremont took several men and set out on an 18-foot inflatable rubber boat to explore an island in the lake that would later be called Fremont Island. Fremont expected to find wild game and vegetation but, upon arriving, found a desolate island that Fremont would name “Disappointment Island.”  

The men spent the next two days on the island taking measurements of the lake’s depth and the elevations of the mountains.  During this time, Carson and another left to explore the island.

Kit Carson’s cross on Fremont Island is pictured on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. The cross was carved into the rock in 1843 by Kit Carson, who explored the area with the island’s namesake, John C. Fremont.

Carson later recalled in his recorded history that “He (Fremont) arranged the India Rubber boat. Myself (Carson) and four others accompanied him… We ascended the highest mountain under (a) shelving rock cut a large cross which is there to this day.”

Kit Carson’s Cross is a significant reminder of the history of settlement and exploration of Utah and the Great Basin region. The cross is a reminder of the importance of the Fremont Expeditions and their role in providing detailed published accounts of the area, eventually leading to the immigration of settlers to what would later become the Utah Territory. 

Visiting Fremont Island

Fremont Island is managed by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands as an open public space. However, traveling to the island can be challenging for individuals interested in seeing the cross.  There are currently two ways in which adventurers can access the island.

  • Boating is the preferred way to visit the island, with the nearest access point six miles south at the Antelope Island State Park marina. Water levels can fluctuate at the lake, and the depth around the island is only 1-2 feet deep, so boats that are not flat-bottomed are not recommended. Kayaking or rowing to the island is also discouraged as weather can become a hazard without warning on the lake. 
  • Walking and Cycling to the island is possible by crossing a sand bar leading to the island’s southern tip to the Antelope Island Causeway. Motorized vehicles are strictly prohibited on the lake bed and the island, and criminal penalties start at $600. The 6-mile route can be muddy, so individuals should use caution when making the trip. There is no parking on the causeway, so those wishing to cross the sandbar must depart from either the parking area near the state park or the marina.

Visiting Fremont Island is a serious undertaking and potentially dangerous. Individuals should take plenty of clean drinking water as none is available on the island. Cell phone coverage is also limited and unreliable on the island due to its remote location, so always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Due to the island’s remoteness, emergency services would take considerable time to reach anyone needing help. 

The following rules apply to those who visit the island:

  • No fires of any kind are permitted
  • No fireworks or explosive items
  • No discharge of firearms or hunting
  • No camping or other overnight use
  • Taking any plant, mineral, wildlife, or any other objects is prohibited
  • No motorized vehicles
  • No items such as geocaches, land art, etc may be placed on the island
  • Commercial guided tours are allowed through a permit
  • Any commercial filming or photography must be permitted

###

About the National Register of Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.