The discovery of a mysterious “monolith” planted upright in southeast Utah’s canyon country has gone viral on the internet, raising concerns that hordes of people will flock to the remote site on public land in San Juan County.
It is unknown who put the object in the desert, but it is clear this artistic gesture was inspired by the late filmmaker Stanley Kubrick.
The 10-foot high shiny metal prism was first observed last Wednesday by state wildlife officials counting bighorn sheep in Lockhart Basin from a helicopter piloted by the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS).
After observing the metal prism from the air, the pilot landed the helicopter so the crew could get a closer look. Their photographs and video were posted on the DPS’ news web page, triggering a cascade of media attention and an investigation by the Bureau of Land Management.
“Although we can’t comment on active investigations, we would like to remind public land visitors that using, occupying, or developing the public lands or their resources without a required authorization is illegal, no matter what planet you are from,” the BLM posted in a tweet.
While the object’s appearance remained a mystery Tuesday, officials have ruled out an extraterrestrial origin.
“This thing is not from another world,” Lt. Nick Street of the Utah Highway Patrol, part of the Department of Public Safety, told the Associated Press.
The object appears straight out of an iconic scene in the opening of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In the scene known as “Dawn of Man,” which was shot in Utah in 1968, a group of apelike pre-humans wake up to discover a black rectilinear monolith standing in the rugged desert landscape. They gather around and worship the object.
In an apparent homage to Kubrick, who died in 1999, the new triangular monolith stands perfectly plumb in a redrock alcove, complete with everything from the famous film but the excited hominids. The prism’s apex points directly at a big vertical crack in the rock in the far recesses of the alcove.
The BLM fears that the explosion of attention the object is receiving will spur a parade of curiosity seekers who may damage the surrounding resources or get stranded, according to spokeswoman Rachel Wootton. But the agency still saw humor in the situation.
“Please don’t try and visit the site as the road is not suitable for most earth-based vehicles,” the agency tweeted.
Erecting a permanent fixture on BLM land without authority is illegal and it is likely the BLM will remove it.
“We will have to decide what happens next,” Wootton said.
Located on lands that President Donald Trump removed from Bears Ears National Monument three years ago, the object can be seen on Google Earth, from a satellite image recorded in October 2016. That indicates the monolith may have been standing there in silent anonymity at least for the past four years.
Tribune reporter Zak Podmore contributed to this story.