It may have stood in the red rock desert of Utah for nearly five years – images from Google Earth show it appearing some time between late 2015 and early 2016. Miles from anywhere, it was only random chance that the thing was spotted by a helicopter crew doing sheep tallies for the government. A mysterious three-sided metal structure, maybe twelve feet high, dubbed ‘The Utah Monolith’ for its other-worldly similarities in origin (unknown) and meaning (anyone’s guess) to the inscrutable black slab from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic, 2001, A Space Odyssey.
Barring actual extraterrestrial interaction, the most likely explanation had to be an art installation, along the lines of the environmental pieces conceptual artist Christo did back in the 60s and early 70s. But whereas Christo always made a show of his work – like the giant orange curtain that was draped across a canyon here in Colorado – this appears to have been done on the down low, erected without fanfare and left for someone to stumble across by and by.
Officials waited a few days before releasing pictures of the anomaly on November 23rd, no doubt debating whether to make them public at all. They refused to reveal its location, hinting only that it was very remote and they didn’t want people trying to find it and getting lost or ‘stranded’ somewhere requiring rescue. But, of course, it only took a matter of hours for someone to ferret out its whereabouts, between flight path tracking apps and the fact that every square inch of the planet is viewable on our computers.
I was among those who looked for and found the monolith, at least on my laptop here in my room. It was a story that instantly piqued my curiosity because there are so few, if any, real mysteries left in this world. A column of polished steel, hiding in the desert, untouched and unexplained? How irresistibly cool! I entertained, briefly, the idea of a pilgrimage but knew that was a pipe dream. Despite the official warnings, it was, in truth, too accessible.
From what I could tell, it was maybe a five-mile hike from a fairly well-established road – albeit a dirt road, and maybe 30 miles down that road from the nearest pavement, but certainly not somewhere requiring days of hiking across barren, baking red rock. Yet I can appreciate that not everyone has enough common sense to act responsibly, a fact for which we all pay the consequences. The feds were simply covering their asses. They knew full well we couldn’t behave ourselves.
But the cat was most definitely out of the bag. Within a day or two, the social media one-upsmanship had begun. Photos of interlopers were already making the rounds, obligatory selfies (the currency of our celebrity-obsessed society) with the monolith looming in the background. And then, just as quickly and mysteriously, it was gone, vanishing some time overnight the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Having stood unnoticed for five years, it was undone in five days.
The Bureau of Land Management, in whose jurisdiction the monolith resided, is professing ignorance, claiming they don’t know what happened. The local county sheriff has offered similar lip service – a dismissive shrug, in essence. Surely both are greatly relieved.
Understandable, as there were no accommodations for people to visit the site, such as a parking lot or bathroom facilities. Even though, technically, BLM land belongs to all of us, the agency reports that vehicles, lots of them, were parked on delicate vegetation and ‘human waste’ was found at the now former site of the monolith. Others would argue that the monolith never belonged there in the first place, that it was the interloper.
And so the worst fears were confirmed and it had to go, for our protection as well as the planet’s. Whether whisked away by government officials, the remorseful artist who first installed it, or the aliens who realized its enigmatic message was lost on we low-wattage humans, only a triangular hole in the ground remains.
Some speculate that Kubrick’s monolith represents mankind’s quest for knowledge. If anything, the Utah monolith is a symbol of our fatuity.