Internet sleuths quickly set about trying to find the actual location in remote Utah of the monolith that was reported a couple of days ago by a helicopter crew that was surveying the area to count bighorn sheep. The crew did not reveal the GPS coordinates for the site, fearing that people would trek in the difficult terrain and get lost and even die. But that did not deter people from the thrill of the chase. And now, within 48 hours of that report, people have found it and gone to the site.
They were aided by internet sleuths who had quickly geo-located the structure on Google Earth and posted the co-ordinates online.
“I decided to go there first because I was drawn to the fact that this object had been there for five years, hidden in nature,” said David Surber, a 33-year-old former US Army infantry officer who drove six hours through the night after finding a Reddit post claiming to have found the exact location.
State wildlife officials originally spotted the object on 18 November while conducting a helicopter flyover of the remote, Mars-like terrain to count big horn sheep. The Reddit user who posted the co-ordinates, Tim Slane, said he had tracked the flight path of the helicopter until it went off-radar – a sign it might have landed.
At this point, he scanned the map for the exact features of the terrain seen in official photos and videos, before zeroing in on a canyon that appeared to fit the bill. There, a distinct shadow – long and narrow – could be seen. It’s not visible in historic satellite imagery from 2015, but appears in October 2016 when scrubland in the vicinity also appears to have been cleared.
There is still a mystery about who put it there and when and why. One popular suggestion is that it is an art work but no one has claimed credit for it.
It’s not uncommon for artworks to be installed in remote locations – either as sculptures, or as “land art”, a form of art that makes use of its natural surroundings. For many of these pieces, the journey to get there is as much a part of the artwork as the actual installation.
One of the most famous examples of this is Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field. Its exact location is a tightly-guarded secret – all that is known is that it’s in the high desert of western New Mexico, although small groups of visitors can book to be taken there. Another is the temporary land art of Martin Hill and Philippa Jones, such as Synergy – a piece that was installed in Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, in 2009.
Video from the dozens – perhaps even hundreds of people – who have already visited the location suggest a professional job. Three large sheets of what appears to be stainless steel were riveted together, with the inside left hollow. Whoever put it there used heavy-duty tools to cut into the bedrock and embed the structure.
“One person alone could not have done it so there is a group of people who have some knowledge of it somewhere,” said Wendy Wischer of the University of Utah’s School of Fine Art. “Most artists want some recognition for what they are doing but this seems to include a level of humour and mystery as part of the intention.”
David Surber, reflecting on his trip to the monolith, admitted he at first hoped its origins would be “otherworldly”.
“Yet deep down inside you know it was most likely just a very patient artist or Space Odyssey 2001 fan.”