If you are interested in visiting a place that has a turbulent legal history, then the Mojave Memorial Cross is a trip for you. Officially known as the White Cross World War I Memorial, it’s a cross formerly located on public land in the Mojave desert erected in 1934. It was built to honor those killed in war and now resides on land owned by a veterans group after lengthy legal battles.
A visit to the Mojave Cross is an interesting adventure for any van or RV nomad who wants a side trip while visiting the Mojave National Preserve. The cross is located on Sunrise Rock on Cima Rd, about 12 miles from Interstate 15 and 6 miles from the town of Cima.
The Mojave Memorial Cross was erected in 1934 to honor those who died in World War I and following wars. The cross was erected by a group of veterans and a local prospector named John Riley Bembry, who served as a medic in World War I. The cross has been maintained by volunteers ever since but was boarded up in 2002 after a court ruling declared it illegal because of separation of church and state constitutional concerns.
On April 28, 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled on Salazar v. Buono in a 5-4 decision that sent the case back to a lower court. The high court ruled there was no violation of the separation of church and state when Congress transferred the land surrounding the cross to a veterans group. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement [of religion] does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.”
In April 2012, a land exchange for removing Sunrise Rock, the actual site of the Memorial Cross, from the Mojave National Preserve was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
On Veterans Day, November 11, 2012, the cross was rededicated by Henry Sandoz in a ceremony and stands proud today.
From Interstate 15 turn south on Cima Rd and go for 12 miles. The cross will be on your left-hand side. There’s a small dirt road you can turn off onto. Keep your eyes open because it’s easy to miss the cross.