November 15, 2012

Mojave Cross to return to desert home

National Park rangers to send back cross

Golden Gate National Recreation Area ranger Nijaune Winston stands by the Mojave Cross. The National Park district intends to return the cross to its original locale in the Mojave National Preserve. (Photo courtesy of Golden Gate National Recreation Area)

by Mark Noack
Half Moon Bay Review

National Park Service officials this week took custody of the Mojave Cross with plans to return it to its desert home, one week after the handmade monument was found mysteriously on the side of Skyline Boulevard.

Once found, the cross, a 6-foot steel-pipe structure, was delivered to the Half Moon Bay Sheriff’s substation. Then it was transported to an undisclosed location in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. GGNRA officials say the cross is being treated as evidence until it is returned to the Mojave National Preserve. Those arrangements are still being made.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Yucca Valley resident Henry Sandoz, the caretaker of the cross, installed a replacement at the same location as part of a Veterans Day ceremony. The event also marked a successful land trade as a workaround to the delicate church-state issues at play.

Originally erected in 1934 to honor World War I veterans, the Mojave Cross became the target of lawsuits, appeals and court rulings after its surrounding property became part of the National Park system. The cross became a legal pawn in a larger controversy. Civil-rights groups viewed its as a blatant religious display on public land while veterans’ associations defended it as a memorial.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 2010 ruling on the matter, but just days afterward the cross was stolen. It remained missing for two years until last week, when a television news crew discovered it lying on the side Highway 35. The cross was wrapped up and had a message asking whoever found it to return it. Sandoz and National Park officials later authenticated it was the same cross stolen in 2010.

Last week, the National Park Service announced it was transferring a small piece of the Mojave National Preserve to the California Veterans of Foreign Wars as a way to resolve the central conflict of the lawsuits.