April 5, 2013

Experiencing the Mt. Rubidoux Easter Sunrise Service

By Sharon Rice, Editor, The Friday Flyer

The Easter Sunrise Service atop Mount Rubidoux was in the news this week. According to pe.com, the Riverside City Council voted to sell the 0.43-acre plot of land around the cross at an April 11 auction after Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the city that the cross’s presence on public land was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

Credit: Dennis Bickers

Sunday, March 31, 2013 was the 104th annual Mount Rubidoux Easter Service. About 3,000 people were in attendance, including Canyon Lake resident/photographer Dennis Bickers.

Credit: Dennis Bickers

The sun begins to rise above the lights of Riverside, as seen by photographer Dennis Bickers from Mount Rubidoux.

Credit: Dennis Bickers

Many historic markers and memorials have been placed on Mount Rubidoux, the most prominent being the cross at the summit dedicated to Father Junípero Serra, who was known to frequent the valley and rest at the Rubidoux Rancho.

Credit: Dennis Bickers

In 1925, the Testimonial Peace Tower was dedicated to Frank Miller, then-owner of the Mission Inn.

Credit: Dennis Bickers

The bridge, now known as Friendship Bridge, is a replica of a noted bridge in Alcántara, Spain.

Credit: Dennis Bickers


Dennis Bickers, a resident of Canyon Lake for the past nine years, says he previously lived in the Riverside area for about 30 years and, at one time, lived just blocks from the landmark Mount Rubidoux. He was so close he could watch 4th of July fireworks launched from the top of the hill while sitting in his front yard, and says, "It was much like watching the Canyon Lake fireworks when you live on the Main Lake."

Dennis says he always intended to go to the Easter Sunrise Service, but between his job as a firefighter and family events, he never made that holy trek up the hill.

"This year, a friend called and said that they had never been to the Easter Service and wanted to know if I would like to go. Without hesitation I said that I would be there," says Dennis. "It’s just one of those mountains I needed to climb; you might say that experiencing the Easter Sunrise Service was on my bucket list."

Dennis set his alarm to go off at 4 a.m. Easter morning in order to arrive at the trailhead by 5. Without traffic, driving and parking took 35 minutes and the hike to the top of the hill took another 35 minutes. It was still dark as he and hundreds of others arrived, so Boy Scouts and other volunteers were on hand to light the way.

Dennis says he arrived on top of Mount Rubidoux at 5:30 a.m. and found a good vantage point for photos and watching the activities, which consisted of several speakers, singers and bagpipe player. A good audio system gave everyone on the hill the ability to listen to the service as they gazed toward the city lights or the sky above.

"I’ve walked, climbed and mountain biked that hill many times over the years but it’s just not the same experience as sunrise with a few hundred people and clear skies," says Dennis. "It was well worth the early morning commute."

Dennis points out there is history in every community, but Mount Rubidoux and the Mission Inn were a couple of his favorite photo op sites. He likens the Mission Inn to the old world charm of Europe and explains what the two sites have in common:

"If you tour the upper, outdoor courtyard of the St. Francis Chapel at the Mission Inn, you will see a large wooden cross," says Dennis. "This is the original wooden cross placed on Mount Rubidoux in 1907. (Because of vandalism, the cross was replaced with a cement cross in 1963.) The very first Easter Sunrise Service in the United States was held in 1909 on top of Mount Rubidoux. The trolley system that ran from LA, San Bernardino, Redlands and beyond brought a peak attendance in the 1920s reported to have exceeded 30,000 people."

Now Dennis can say he has joined a century's worth of throngs making that annual trek.