A mysterious monolith that baffled officials and adventurers when it first appeared and then quickly vanished in the remote Utah wilderness has been abducted by four men – not aliens, as many in the world might have hoped.
A group of friends who were photographing the monolith captured the pullout last Friday night and then shared the images on Instagram.
As the men “left with the coins, one of them said, ‘Leave no trace,’ Ross Bernards told The New York Times.
The monolith was discovered in Utah at the end of last month, sparking origin theories ranging from fine art to television or movie remnants to aliens.
Bret Hutchings, the Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter pilot who discovered the monolith during a bighorn sheep count, had refused to reveal its location.
“One of the biologists spotted it, and we just flew straight over it,” Hutchings told local media, estimating the monolith to be between 10 and 12 feet tall. “He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around! And I said to myself “What”. And he said, ‘There’s that thing over there – we’ve got to go look at it!’
Thrill seekers agreed, and within days visitors found it, just east of Canyonlands National Park. Amid increasing international attention, a copy monolith has been reported in the hills of Romania.
The origins of the object remain unknown. A spokesperson for gallery owner David Zwirner told The Guardian it was not a work by the late artist John McCracken. The spokesperson later told the New York Times that it could be from McCracken, but confusion persists.
Nick Street, a Utah public safety spokesperson, said the monolith was embedded in the rock. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said the monolith was “considered private property” and would not investigate as these matters were “handled by the local sheriff’s office.”
The San Juan County Sheriff declined to investigate, jokingly uploading a “Most Wanted” poster to his website with suspects replaced by aliens. But the sheriff’s office then reversed its decision and announced an investigation with the BLM.
Men’s friend Bernard pictured removing the monolith may not be the people who installed it.
Bernards said he was visiting the monolith with a friend on Friday shortly before 9 p.m. when he heard the men arrive.
“You better have your pictures,” he said, before starting to push the monolith in an attempt to uproot it. The sculpture fell, making a loud noise, and the men smashed it before running away with the parts in a wheelbarrow.
Bernards suggested that the men saw the monolith, which turned out to be hollow with a plywood structure, “like an eyesore, a pollutant to the landscape.”
“That’s why you don’t leave garbage in the desert,” one of the men reportedly said.
On Instagram, Bernards said he and a friend did not try to stop the men from removing the monolith because “they were right to take it down.”
Echoing authorities in Utah concerned about the environmental impact of so many visitors to such a remote location, Bernards described seeing “at least 70 different cars (and a plane)” in search of the monolith.
“Cars park all over the delicate desert landscape,” he writes. “No one follows one path nor the other. We could literally see people trying to approach it from all directions trying to reach it, constantly changing the unspoiled landscape.
“Mother Nature is an artist, it is better to leave her art in the wild.”