The Mojave Cross

Visit Date: October 6, 2015

The Mojave Cross stands atop Sunrise Rock, a granite outcropping located adjacent to Cima Road, approximately six miles north of Cima, Cal. The present cross is not the original, however and therein lies the story.

The original Mojave Cross was erected in 1934, as a memorial to those who had died in WWI. One of the founders of the memorial, and a veteran of WWI, Riley Bembry took care of the cross until his death in 1984. Shortly before he died, Bembry asked his close friend, Henry Sandoz, to watch over the memorial after he was gone. Which Sandoz and his wife have done since that time.

In 2001, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a retired Park Service employee who claimed the cross was unconstitutional on government property (it was located within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve), because it violated the rule of separation of church and state. Federal courts ordered it removed. Congress got involved in 2003 to authorize a land swap, whereby the Park Service would turn over the acre of land known as Sunrise Rock to a Veteran of Foreign Wars post in Barstow and the Veterans Home of California, also located in Barstow, in exchange for five acres of property located elsewhere in the preserve. The land to be donated was owned by Sandoz and his wife, Wanda. But the courts rejected the transfer. And then in 2010, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts ruling. The land swap was allowed to take place.

Weeks after the Supreme Court decision, the cross was stolen.

The litigation finally came to an end on April 23 of 2012 when U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Timlin signed an order ending the ACLU lawsuit, allowing the property transfer to proceed. An on November 11 of 2012, the long-awaited restoration and re-dedication of the new Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial Cross took place. Fittingly, on Veteran's Day. The Park Service has fenced the site, but it has entrances for visitors. A plaque stating that the cross is a memorial for U.S. war veterans has been placed on the rock, beneath the cross.

So while the Mojave Cross is located in the Mojave National Preserve, it's really not. It stands on its own small piece of private property inside the boundaries of the Preserve. I'm glad that things worked out to keep the Mojave Cross in place.