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|Utah Department of Public Safety. Photo by CNN.|
The one who made the tall, metal rectangle or why they stuck it among the red rocks, where it was discovered this week in a helicopter flyover by Utah Department of Public Safety employees (they were counting bighorn sheep) are still the mysterious questions.
And though comparisons were quickly drawn to the fictional monoliths of film auteur Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," we can safely say this real-life monolith was not the work of aliens.
Still, it's a fittingly mystifying symbol in a year that's often felt stranger than fiction. And while we may eventually learn more about the artwork's origin, any piece of Kubrick-inspired art should leave some questions unanswered, said I.Q. Hunter, a film scholar and De Montfort University professor.
"The Utah work is a slice of the future set in a prehistoric past, absolutely alien and incomprehensible in the landscape," he told CNN. "It would be a pity if we discovered what the Utah sculpture was, as that would lessen its mystery."
The monolith was removed by an "unknown party"
It happened sometime at Friday night, the state's Bureau of Land Management said in a Facebook post.
"We have received credible reports that the illegally installed structure, referred to as the 'monolith,' has been removed" from BLM public lands, the post said.
"The BLM did not remove the structure, which is considered private property."
'We've got to go look at it!'
The monolith was first discovered November 18 by officers from the Utah Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau.
They were flying by helicopter, helping the Division of Wildlife Resources count bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, when they spotted something that seemed right out of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
"One of the biologists ... spotted it, and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it," pilot Bret Hutchings told CNN affiliate KSL. "He was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!' And I was like, 'What.' And he's like, 'There's this thing back there -- we've got to go look at it!'"
And there it was -- in the middle of the red rock was a shiny, silver metal monolith sticking out of the ground. Hutchings guessed it was "between 10 and 12 feet high." It didn't look like it was randomly dropped to the ground, he told KSL, but rather it looked like it had been planted.
"I'm assuming it's some new wave artist or something or, you know, somebody that was a big ("2001: A Space Odyssey") fan," he said, referencing a scene in the 1968 film where a black monolith appears.
Still, it is illegal to install structures or art without authorization on public lands "no matter what planet you're from," said Utah DPS in a statement released Monday.
The Department of Public Safety refused to disclose the monolith's exact location, warning that people who try to visit it might end up stranded. But some went searching anyway. The Salt Lake Tribune, which confirmed the object's disappearance Saturday, spoke with disappointed visitors who drove hours to catch a glimpse.
All that remained Saturday, according to the Tribune: a metal triangle and a hole where the monolith used to stand, surrounded by the tracks of those who came to check it out.
Colorado resident Riccardo Marino told the newspaper that he saw a truck driving away from the area with a big rectangular object.
Then he realized the monolith was gone.
It was a "very eerie feeling, arriving in the moonlight to nothing there," Marino told the Tribune.
The trek involved driving in the darkness over rocky terrain and verifying GPS coordinates, according to three people who went to see it. At least one explorer got lost at first. But the trip was worth it, they said, even if the monolith wasn't the work of aliens.
David Surber may have been among the very first to view the monolith in person. The coordinates to the monolith were circulating on Reddit, but none of the users could confirm they were correct. Surber volunteered to find out.
The coordinates were indeed correct, and Surber eagerly shared the results of his visit with 200 Reddit users who'd flooded his inbox. Among his findings: The monolith wasn't magnetic or solid (he said it sounded "like a cardboard box" when he knocked on it). He also shared step-by-step instructions for the drive out to the monolith.
"At the end of the day, extraterrestrial or made through artistic expression; the monolith provided an opportunity for thousands of people to rally behind something positive again," he told CNN in an email. "It was a good escape from all the negativity we've experienced in 2020."
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