It's gone! Why the missing Utah monolith is making us think about '2001'

Jim Sergent, Javier Zarracina, George Petras and Jordan Culver, USA TODAY
·5 min read

A gleaming three-sided metal column that received international attention after it was discovered embedded in Utah's remote Red Rock Country reportedly vanished without a trace. Similar structures have since surfaced in Romania and in California.

Two adventure sportsmen who advocate a "Leave No Trace" philosophy towards nature, have stepped forward to say they were part of the team who removed the Utah monolith.

Utah residents Andy Lewis and Sylvan Christensen posted a 23-second video showing the monolith, once embedded into the rock, being dismantled, loaded onto a wheel barrow and carried away at night.

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Lewis, a 34-year-old BASE jumping guide, posted the video to his YouTube account, Mr. Slackline, saying the group removed the monolith the night of Nov. 27.

Adventure guide Christensen posted the video to his TikTok account Tuesday, The participants' faces are blurred to prevent recognition.

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"We removed the Utah Monolith because there are clear precedents for how we share and standardize the use of our public lands, natural wildlife, native plants, fresh water sources, and human impacts upon them," Christensen wrote on an Instagram post, urging people to protect valuable public lands. "Things like this don’t help."

The Bureau of Land Management reported the disappearance Saturday, making it clear that it was not the work of the federal agency that overseas public land.

"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 agency said in its Facebook statement. "The BLM did not remove the structure which is considered private property."

The case was passed on to the local sheriff's office, but they didn't have any earthly leads.

Days after the Bureau of Land Management revealed the structure had disappeared, travel photographer Ross Bernards, on the site with his friend Mike Newlands, revealed he saw four unidentified men remove the celebrated object.

"They took it away for a few reasons," Newlands told USA TODAY on Tuesday. "It’s litter. Public lands are to be respected, and this was out-of-place in a pristine and sensitive environment."

Newlands noted the monolith was becoming a major attraction and "the damage to the land from all the vehicles and people was going to be disastrous."

The 10 to 12-foot tall monolith discovered last week invited comparisons to the monolith made famous by filmmaker Stanley Kubrick in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

That black monolith makes multiple appearances in the 1968 movie — from the apparent dawn of man to a mission on the moon — and has given birth to a wide range of theories about Kubrick's and author Arthur C. Clarke's intent.

The stainless steel monolith has inspired many questions, too, since being discovered by the Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on Nov. 18 while conducting a count of big horn sheep in a portion of southeastern Utah.

Where is the Utah monolith?

The Utah Department of Public Safety won't disclose the exact location of the monolith, except that it's in a difficult to access, barren canyon in Red Rock Country.

Red Rock is one of five hiking regions distinguished by the Utah Travel industry. The area is southern Utah canyon country, which includes all five of Utah's national parks and many of its monuments and state parks.

The exact location of the installation was not disclosed in an effort to stop individuals from attempting to locate it, for fear visitors could potentially become stranded in a remote area.

But that didn't stop David Surber, who started sharing video and images of the monolith to an unverified Instagram account Wednesday.

In a video tagged in Moab, Surber tested if the structure is magnetic and solid. "Hollow, riveted, not magnetic," he said in the clip.

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What does the monolith look like?

Utah state officials don't think otherworldly beings are behind the monolith.

"It’s stainless steel. It’s put together with pop rivets," Utah Department of Public Safety spokesperson Lt. Nick Street told USA TODAY. "That kind of says it was definitely put together by humans.

"As far as the timeline, for all we know, it could have been placed there 50, 60 years ago and because of the material it’s made out of it hasn’t weathered – it was meant not to. It’s definitely an interesting installation."

Why people are comparing it to '2001: A Space Odyssey'

Just the restrained statement from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources alone might serve as the opening to the next installment in the "2001" saga:

"While on this mission, they spotted an unusual object and landed nearby to investigate further. The crew members found a metal monolith installed in the ground in a remote area of red rock."

There is something eerily similar between the Utah slot canyon and the spare landscapes in scenes where the "2001" monolith appears.

Early in the movie, it's in an African plain where tribes of apes fight over meager vegetation for sustenance. Later, the monolith is discovered in a crater on the moon.

Check out this video to see how the two compare.

Not the first mysterious monolith

This isn't the first unexplained monolith that's appeared and disappeared in the U.S. in recent years, including one that seems much more closely connected to Kubrick's film.

On the eve of 2001, a steel monolith was discovered on "a windswept hilltop" in Seattle’s Warren Magnuson Park, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The monolith measured 1 foot by 4 feet by 9 feet — a tribute to the first three prime numbers squared and an understanding of mathematics, as described in Clarke's book.

Three days after the monolith appeared in the park, it disappeared just as mysteriously.

With all the attention the Utah monolith has garnered in recent days, it might not be unreasonable to speculate that it might disappear — mysteriously or not.

The Utah Department of Public Safety statement reminds the public that it is illegal to install "structures or art without authorization on federally managed public lands, no matter what planet you’re from."

Sara M. Moniuszko, and Bryan Alexander contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Monolith: How Utah's compares to the monolith in the movie '2001'