MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE As Bill McDonald set off for his hike up the Mojave National Preserve's Teutonia Peak trail on Monday, he made a surprising discovery: Someone had erected another replica of the controversial Mojave Cross.


The replacement, made of white PVC pipe mounted to a metal base, marks the second time an anonymous person has tried to replace the World War I memorial since it was stolen in May 2010 from atop Sunrise Rock, about 12 miles south of Interstate 15 off Cima Road.


First erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1934, the Mojave Cross triggered national debate over whether religious symbols can be displayed on government land about a decade ago, when a former park service employee and the American Civil Liberties Union alleged the cross was unconstitutional.


On a 5-4 vote in April 2010, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision and ruled the cross could remain, presuming a proposed deal could be finalized to transfer the 1-acre memorial site to the VFW. In return, the government would get 5 acres of privately held land elsewhere in the preserve.


Ten days after the Supreme Court ruling, an unknown vandal stole the Mojave Cross. The thieves were never identified, in spite of a $125,000 reward offer by Liberty Legal.


The rock has sat empty for a year and a half while negotiations drag on to settle the land transfer deal.


A park maintenance worker spotted the new cross Monday, according to Linda Slater, spokeswoman for the preserve. Park officials removed the replica Tuesday, she said, because it violated a court injunction prohibiting the display of a cross there while litigation over the land plays out.


Also on Tuesday, the court agreed with the government's request to extend the land-swap legal process by another 90 days, according to U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Tom Hornbuckle.


"Settlement discussions among all parties seeking a fair resolution remain ongoing," Hornbuckle said in a statement.


The involved parties are set to return to court Feb. 15.