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DESERT CHRIST PARK - YUCCA VALLEY
Bible Story Statues Amidst the Joshua Trees

Desert Christ Park Judas  Statue photoFrank Antone Martin was a man of many talents and occupations. An orhan at an early age in Ohio, he taught himself to read and write, studying the scriptures of the bible. An artist, poet, woodcarver and sculptor, he found work in the aviation industry in Southern California during World War II, as a Senior Pattern-maker and Design Engineer for the Douglas Aircraft Company. Martin had been married in Arizona and impressed by the Easter Sunrise Services at the Grand Canyon and a giant cross used in the service. With an eye to making a contribution, set about sculpting and Herculean sized statue of Christ in his backyard, with the intent of having it set on the canyon rim. The Christ statue was ten feet tall, made of white concrete and steel and weighed 3 tons. His plan ran into a snag, the seperation of church and state. The National Park couldn’t have a permanent religious statue. Rather the vision of Antone Martin met the dreams of Eddie Garver, called the “Desert Parson” for church in Yucca Valley. The desert pastor read in the national press of the sculptor and his “Christ that wasn’t wanted”.

Christ Sermon on the Mount Statue Scene Yucca Valley photoMartin’s giant Christ found a home on a hillside overlooking the high desert town of Yucca Valley, near the Joshia Tree National Park the Reverand Garver had his Yucca Valley Communtiy Church. Over the next decades, Martin added more statues to the original, creating what he called a “World Peace Shrine”. Spread across the hillside at the edge of town among the Yuccas and scattered between the Joshua Trees a series of 40 white cement plaster statues depict ten tableau scenes from the Bible, portraying the life and teachings of Christ.
A trail leads from the “Blessing of the Children” and the “Semon on the Mount” to the “Garden of Gethsemane”, and “Christ’s Ascension” formed of the original statue. The scenes are identified in the pamphlet map provided at the site, but the identities of 9 feet tall white figures are left to the visitor’s knowledge of the bible. Twelve disciples surround Christ on the mount, with Judas turned away in shame, but the others must be sussed by their garb and symbols.

Christ Seated Suffer the Children photoThe most dramatic work is the “The Last Supper” carved in bas-relief on a giant façade three stories high with thirteen figures and thirty foot long table and a vision of the natural hillside behind, stands over the amphitheater where Easter Sunrise Service and other events are held outdoors. The most touching is perhaps the "Suffer the Children" with seating Christ reaching to a child, perhaps like your own, and the most mysterious the "Tomb of Christ" with the body of Christ vanished but his shroud left behind. Below the tomb is the Rock Chapel with its stone arched steeple, built and designed by artist Frank Garske, constructed of red native desert stone with the help locals of Yucca Valley. The chapel can only hold 16 people is popular for weddings - small ones.

Rock Chapel at Desert Christ park photoAntone Martin died in 1961 at the age of 74 after completing his life’s work. The park and statues are now maintained by a non-profit foundation. Some of the statures are a bit worse for wear over the years, a few missing arms or legs with only the steel supports remaining, but lending a certain earnestness. Like a Christian version of the ancient statues of Greece, baking in the desert sun. Sure there are other Christian tableau statuary around the world, usually on pilgrimmage trails like the Last Supper at Madonna Del Sasso in Locarno, Switzerland (see Madonna Del Sasso Sanctuary Church) or St Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, Canada, but there something unique in the scale, audacity and inspiration.in the setting and vision, a bit of pure roadside Americana.

The Desert Christ Park is easily accessable at the corner of Mohawk Trail and Sunnyslope Drive in Yucca Valley just off the main Highway 62 to Twenty Nine Palms from Palm Springs, around the corner from the city's Hi-Desert Nature Museum and about 10 minutes from Yucca Valley's Pioneer Town. It is open to the public free of charge.
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