Where did the Utah monolith come from? Who created it? The mysterious metal pillar was discovered last week in a remote part of the Utah desert, vanished soon after, and we still don’t know who put it there.
Utah helicopter crew investigates the mysterious monolith in the desert. Photo: Utah Department of Public Safety
The Utah Department of Public Safety was conducting their annual count of bighorn sheep from a helicopter on November 18, 2020, when they spotted something unusual in a rocky, remote part of the desert in southeastern Utah.
They landed nearby to investigate, and discovered what quickly became known as the Utah Monolith.
The object was a 3-sided, 10 to 12-foot-tall pillar of stainless steel or aluminum sheets assembled with rivets and embedded in the rock.
But were they extraterrestrial rivets?
The crew noted there was no indication of who may have placed it there.
Utah Monolith. Photo: Utah Department of Public Safety
“I’m assuming it’s some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big 2001: A Space Odyssey fan,” pilot Bret Hutchings said.
Utah Highway Patrol shared an image of the monolith on Facebook on November 20. The caption read: “Did you know that @utahdpsaerobureau helps @utahdwr with counting big horn sheep every year? During the count they came across this (sheet of metal?), buried in the middle of nowhere… what do you think it is?”
Alien emoji. Shrugging emoji.
One commenter said, “It fell off the UFO we’ve been seeing in Ogden lately.”
“I dunno but if I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” another wrote.
Too late. They already touched it. Photo: Utah Department of Public Safety
The Department of Public Safety refused to disclose the exact location of the monolith, stating “it is in a very remote area and if individuals were to attempt to visit the area, there is a significant possibility they may become stranded and require rescue. We are encouraging anyone who knows the location of the monolith to not attempt to visit it due to road conditions.”
Of course, Redditors soon identified the location of the monolith, and visitors braved the hazards of Utah’s red rock country to see the strange object for themselves.
Dave Sparks of the TV show Diesel Brothers tracked down the monolith and described what he saw: “They got a concrete saw and they cut it into the red rock there,” he said. “You can see right here on the bottom where they had a couple of over cuts with the saws.”
Utah Monolith coordinates: 38°20’35.0″N 109°39’58.0″W
Who Created the Utah Monolith?
Utah officials assumed the monolith was some sort of prank, hoax, or abstract art.
On November 24, the Utah Bureau of Land Management issued this statement: “Although we can’t comment on active investigations, the Bureau of Land Management would like to remind public land visitors that using, occupying, or developing the public lands or their resources without a required authorization is illegal, no matter what planet you are from.”
The Verge noted that according to imaging on Google Earth, the monolith had been there since at least October 2016, but was not there in August 2015.
“A mysterious object resembling the freestanding plank sculptures of the late Minimalist artist John McCracken—or the alien-built monoliths in Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey—has been discovered in a remote area of the Utah desert, prompting theories ranging from extraterrestrial visitation to avant-garde installation,” The Art Newspaper reported.
McCracken died in 2011, so while the monolith does resemble his work, he couldn’t have placed it there.
A spokesman for David Zwirner, McCracken’s gallerist, told The Guardian the monolith was probably created by an artist paying homage to McCracken.
“The gallery is divided on this,” Zwirner himself said. “I believe this is definitely by John.”
Was the Utah Monolith created by artist John McCracken?
Others speculated the monolith could have been created by Petecia Le Fawnhawk, who just recently placed a mirror in the sand in a remote location.
“Although I cannot claim this one,” Le Fawnhawl told The Verge, “I did have the thought to plant secret monuments in the desert. As we can see, perhaps we could all use a little more mystery.”
The Utah Monolith Vanishes
The monolith vanished on Friday, November 27. The Bureau of Land Management issued a statement on Facebook:
“We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the ‘monolith’ has been removed from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands by an unknown party. The BLM did not remove the structure which is considered private property. We do not investigate crimes involving private property which are handled by the local sheriff’s office. The structure has received international and national attention and we received reports that a person or group removed it on the evening of Nov. 27.”
The monolith has vanished, but the top was left behind. Photo: Kelsea Dockham, Canyon State Overland
Riccardo Marino and Sierra Van Meter discovered the monolith missing when they made the trek to visit it late Friday night to take some photos.
“All that was left in its place was a message written in the dirt that said “bye bitch” with a fresh pee stain right next to it,” Marino wrote on Instagram. “Someone had just stolen the statue, and we were the first to arrive at the scene.”
It was then that they realized they had passed a truck hauling the monolith away not long before they arrived.
“At about 10:45pm roughly 4 miles into Lockhart Basin we passed a truck that was hauling a large object strapped down in the bed with the hatch open. I thought for a second that it was the monolith but after driving 8 hours to get here we ignored it and convinced ourselves they were hauling off-road vehicles.”
They found fresh dolly tracks nearby.
“Sadly some rando’s now posses it instead of our alien friends,” Marino wrote.
He and Van Meter decided to give the monolith a more dignified farewell.
“We arrived to the location to see nothing but the foul markings left and we realized we must have been the first people to see it removed,” he said. “We made the best of the situation and created a more fitting exit for this otherworldly piece of artwork. Our rendition of the monolith returning back to space.”
The Utah Monolith returns to space. Image by Riccardo Marino.
Aliens of Interest
The San Juan County Sheriffs Office posted a message to their Facebook page the following day:
“While we take all reports of crime seriously, we do not have the proper resources to devote much time to the appearance and subsequent disappearance/theft of the structure that was discovered in a remote area of public lands within our county. However, with hundreds visiting the area during the last few days, perhaps someone saw something suspicious. If you recognize anyone from the lineup provided as being in the area of the strange structure on the night of November 27th, please let us know!”
The image included “mugshots” of grey aliens, E.T., the singer from the Rednex video for Cotton Eye Joe, and Baby Yoda.
Fate of the Monolith Revealed
On December 1, photographer Ross Bernards posted about the fate of the monolith on his Instagram account.
While he and a few friends were photographing the monolith in the moonlight, four men arrived to remove it.
“You better have got your pictures,” one of them said, and then pushed the monolith over.
“This is why you don’t leave trash in the desert,” another said, as they broke it apart and carried it off in a wheelbarrow.
“Leave no trace,” they said as they left.
This raises a few questions: Who urinated on the spot where the monolith had stood? Who wrote the words in the sand? Who forgot to grab the top of the monolith that had been left behind, if the group was attempting to ‘leave no trace?’
“If you’re asking why we didn’t stop them well, they were right to take it out,” Bernards wrote. “We stayed the night and the next day hiked to a hill top overlooking the area where we saw at least 70 different cars (and a plane) in and out. Cars parking everywhere in the delicate desert landscape. Nobody following a path or each other. We could literally see people trying to approach it from every direction to try and reach it, permanently altering the untouched landscape. Mother Nature is an artist, it’s best to leave the art in the wild to her.”
Local sportsman Andy L. Lewis, along with his friends Sylvan Christensen and Homer Manson, took credit for removal, posting a short clip on his Facebook page of the monolith being rolled away in a wheelbarrow.
In a statement to the New York Times, the group wrote that they removed the sculpture to protect the land.
“This land wasn’t physically prepared for the population shift,” the statement said.
Lewis later said the monolith “obviously couldn’t stay there because it had become a destination, that was basically becoming a disruption to that area.”
Lewis’ group also didn’t want to see the monolith destroyed, as some were planning.
But who urinated on the monolith and scrawled obscenities in the sand? Lewis said it wasn’t his group.
“We didn’t write ‘Bye Bitch’ in the sand, or pee on it. That was a different crew,” Lewis said. “We actually passed another crew on the way out, they were going in to destroy it.”
The monolith was damaged during the removal, but the group rebuilt it.
Following weeks of death threats after the disappearance of the monolith, as well as discussions with lawyers and the Bureau of Land Management, the group decided in December 2020 to donate it to the agency so it can go on display.
“The Utah Monolith is not gone. It’s not the end of the story,” Lewis said.
“We’re hoping that it can go up and become a symbol of environmental awareness,” Christensen said, “you know, a continuation of the art.”
A Monolith Appears in Romania
Media outlets reported on November 30 that a monolith nearly identical to the one in Utah was discovered on a Romanian hillside on November 26.
The metallic pillar rises up from what appears to be a freshly dug hole on Batca Doamnei Hill in the city of Piatra Neamt. It is near the Petrodava Dacian Fortress archaeological site, and overlooks Mount Ceahlau, a natural wonder referred to as the Holy Mountain.
The Utah pillar disappeared the day after the Romanian monolith was found, so despite similarities, it is not the same one. This one has a higher point on one side that reaches a height of 13 feet.
The Romanian Monolith on a hillside in Piatra Neamt
The Romanian monolith didn’t last long, though, as it seems to have disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
Romania media reported that on December 1, 2020, just four days after it appeared, the monolith had vanished overnight from the hillside.
“An unidentified person, apparently a bad local welder, made it,” a local reporter said, referring to the shoddy welding job he observed when he visited the monolith in person. “Now all that remains is just a small hole covered by rocky soil.”
On the morning of December 2, 2020 another monolith appeared, this time in California. The 10-foot stainless steel sculpture was discovered on Pine Mountain in Atascadero.
It didn’t last long, though, as a group of young men removed it that night in the name of “Christ is king.”
In a blurry video, they are heard calling the object an “alien obelisk,” saying “We don’t want illegal aliens from Mexico, or outer space.”
The group took the monolith and left a wooden cross in its place.
Monoliths as a Service
An collective of artists known as The Most Famous Artist claimed credit for the monoliths on December 3.
They posted 3D renders and “original concept art” for the monolith that was apparently created in August 2020, offering collectors a chance to own an “official alien monolith” for $45,000 in what they are calling “Monoliths as a Service.”
The group is know for various high-profile stunts, such as altering the Hollywood sign to read “Hollyweed” and painting several houses pink in Los Angeles.
“We are the global creative community behind the most headline-worthy art stunts in the world,” their website reads.
It includes photos of the Utah and California monoliths, both which appeared on other websites, presumably taken by others and not members of The Most Famous Artist. A third photo shows a monolith at a warehouse or workshop, wrapped up and ready to ship.
In an interview with Mashable, founder Matty Mo implies ownership of the Romanian monolith as well, stating “I only had 3 spots for photos on my site.”
If The Most Famous Artist created the monolith in August of 2020, then what is that object visible on Google Earth images dated 2016?
“Given the financial aspect here, the artists inserting themselves into the narrative of this stunt could just be a way to make money — also possibly it could be critiquing art collectors’ willingness to pay big bucks to get in on a cultural moment,” Mashable writes. “Then again, being actually behind the monolith stunts would achieve that same extremely meta end.”
In response to Mashable’s question “in god’s name, WHY?” Matty Mo said:
“What better way to end this fucked up year than let the world briefly think aliens made contact only to be disappointed that it’s just The Most Famous Artist playing tricks again.”
Gingerbread Monolith: A Christmas Miracle
A gingerbread monolith mysteriously appeared in San Francisco on Christmas morning
On December 25, 2020, San Francisco got a dose of Christmas magic when a seven-foot-tall monolith made of gingerbread, icing and gumdrops appeared on a hilltop in Corona Heights Park.
“Who built it?” KQED asked. “Did Christmas-happy aliens beam it down from above?”
“Looks like a great spot to get baked,” Phil Ginsburg, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department General Manager, said. “We will leave it up until the cookie crumbles.”
That didn’t take too long.
The gingerbread monolith had fallen over and was crumbling by the following afternoon.
Icing and gumdrops on the gingerbread monolith
enough with the fucking monoliths
— David Farrier (@davidfarrier) December 26, 2020