Cross found in Northern California identified as the Mojave cross
Mojave National Preserve officials confirmed Wednesday that the cross found Monday on a roadside in Northern California once stood in the Mojave Desert.
Rangers at the preserve were helped in their identification by Henry Sandoz, who constructed and raised the seven-foot metal pipe cross in 1998 in violation of park regulations.
The cross sparked controversy in 1999, when a former National Park Service employee and the American Civil Liberties Union objected to its presence on federal land as a violation of the 1st Amendment. After a series of court battles, the Supreme Court eventually took the case, and its ruling in 2010 led to a compromise would allow a cross to remain in the desert.
After the decision, however, thieves stole the cross. Despite a $25,000 reward, it was never recovered.
Sandoz was initially skeptical that the cross, which was found strapped to a fence post near Half Moon Bay, was the original. But according to park service spokeswoman Linda Slater, he was persuaded when told that it was partially filled with concrete.
Other conspicuous marks on the cross had been repaired, and deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office said the cross smelled of fresh paint.
A cross has been on the Mojave site -- about 10 miles south of Interstate 15 -- since 1934. The display, erected in honor of World War I veterans, had often been vandalized, and Sandoz, who believed he had an obligation to maintain the tradition, wanted to raise a cross that would be difficult to remove.
Since the U.S. attorney's office has decided that the cross won't be needed as evidence, the National Park Service plans to return it to Sandoz, Slater said.
On Veterans Day, the Sandozes -- along with friends, supporters and a military honor guard -- plan to raise a new cross on the site, which is now owned by the California Veterans of Foreign Wars.
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-- Thomas Curwen
Photo: Henry and Wanda Sandoz spend a moment in 2000 with the cross they erected at Sunrise Rock in the Mojave Desert. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times