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Mysterious monolith disappears from remote southeast Utah desert

This Nov. 18 photo provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety shows a metal monolith installed in the ground in a remote area of red rock in southeast Utah. Utah Bureau of Land Management officials say the 10- to 12-foot tall steel structure went missing on the night of Nov. 27.
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The monolith that was first noticed by a team of biologists in a helicopter above the Utah wilderness more than a week ago has disappeared.

Utah Bureau of Land Management officials say the 10- to 12-foot tall steel structure went missing sometime Friday night. BLM spokeswoman Kimberly Finch said the monolith was taken by an unknown party and was not removed by the state agency.

The mysterious monolith was somehow installed deep into Utah’s remote red rock country and received widespread national and international interest after it was first spotted by Utah Department of Wildlife Resources biologists on an errand surveying bighorn sheep on Nov. 18. The tall, shiny object appeared on satellite images sometime between August 2015 and October 2016.

Hundreds of tourists attempted to see it in the last week, with cars lined up near the area as late as Saturday, when hikers were alerting drivers that the monolith was no longer where it had been.

State officials quickly debunked the idea that the monolith was put there by space aliens, and said it would not have been easy to place, regardless of who did it, as roads leading to the area follow rough and hazardous terrain. And they discouraged visitors to the area.

Ryan Bacher, an avid Utah outdoorsman and helicopter pilot, flew with friends to see the monolith on Friday. He said there were dozens of others there, too, “looking at this fun piece of art.”

“Twenty-four hours later, my close friend, who is also a helicopter pilot, flew his family down to see as well and found it taken down,” Bacher said, adding he would like to know who did it.

Left in the monolith’s place was a stack of red rocks and a steel prism-shaped object.

The Utah Department of Heritage and Arts released a statement on Facebook saying the contemporary monolith, though artistic, should not be compared to indigenous rock art, such as ancient petroglyphs, pictographs and rock art that are protected archaeological treasures with historical significance.

The department emphasized that “while the monolith has better craftsmanship than graffiti, this is still vandalism.”

“It irreversibly altered the natural environment on public lands. While the monolith is interesting, we cannot condone vandalism of any type.”

Because the monolith is private property, the investigation into its disappearance will be continued by the sheriff’s office in San Juan County.