The mysterious shiny metallic monolith that was found in Utah’s Red Rock Country more than a week ago and set off various online and offline investigations into who—or what, dun, dun, dun—put it there is gone. On Saturday, the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office announced that the monolith had been removed by an unknown party. Is it possible that the aliens removed it just to watch humans go mad looking for it? (Just kidding… I think).
In a statement posted on Facebook, the bureau affirmed that it had received credible reports that a person or group removed the structure on the evening of Nov. 27. The federal agency said that it did not remove the monolith, which it said was installed illegally, and that it considers it private property. In addition, it added that it wouldn’t be investigating the actors that slipped away with the structure because it does not investigate crimes involving private property. That’s the local sheriff’s job, the bureau said.
According to the New York Times, the Utah Department of Public Safety, which found the monolith on Nov. 18, purportedly said what all of us are probably thinking in an Instagram post reacting to the news: “IT’S GONE!”
“Almost as quickly as it appeared it has now disappeared,” the department said, per the Times. “I can only speculate” that aliens took it back, it said, using the alien emoji.
That post, and any post related to the monolith, appear to have been deleted from the department’s Instagram. Perhaps state authorities didn’t like the reference to aliens. (Although come on, given that the world is all doom and gloom, let folks’ imaginations run wild). Given the use of “I,” in the post, I imagine that it’s also possible that the department’s social media manager accidentally posted to the account? This too is a mystery.
Since the Utah Department of Public Safety announced its discovery, which it found while surveying bighorn sheep by helicopter, the monolith has captivated the internet. The structure, which has three sides and measures between 10 to 12 feet (3 to 3.6 meters), was firmly planted into the ground at the bottom of a red rock cove. The department refused to provide the exact location of the monolith because it claimed that the structure was in a very remote area and that people who tried to visit it could become stranded and require rescue.
That decision, of course, was like an open invitation to amateur internet sleuths. In just days, some tracked the flight paths of the Utah Public Safety Department’s helicopters to gather more clues about the monolith’s location. Others used Google Earth to find the structure, narrowing its location down to just south of Dead Horse Point State Park and relatively close to Canyonlands National Park. There were some adventurers that actually went to the location and managed to find it, posting about their experience on Instagram. As we all know, if it’s not on the ‘gram, it didn’t happen.
To find out when the monolith had been placed in the rural area, sleuths pored over Google Earth’s historical imaging data, eventually deciding that the structure had appeared in the area between August of 2015 and October of 2016.
Now for the other question: Who exactly put it there? Per the Times, some art sources speculated that it was the work of the minimalist artist and science fiction fan John McCracken, who died in 2011. John McCracken’s son, Patrick McCracken, told the outlet that he is puzzled by the monolith, but that it could be his father’s work. Patrick McCracken cites a conversation in which he claimed his father said that he wanted to leave his artwork in remote places to be discovered later.
Patrick McCracken did not believe his father was joking.
“He was inspired by the idea of alien visitors leaving objects that resembled his work, or that his work resembled,” McCracken said. “This discovery of a monolith piece—that’s very much in line with his artistic vision.”
Nonetheless, there is no consensus. Some at the David Zwirner Gallery, which exhibits McCracken’s work, say that the piece is definitely his, although there are disagreements even within the gallery. But his art friends, including James Hayward and Ed Ruscha, say that is not a John McCracken.
Others, like Gizmodo, point to the area’s history of appearing in Hollywood films and shows, and maintain that it is probably a movie prop or was placed there as a joke by someone working on a TV show or movie. Dead Horse Point State Park has been used as a filming location for Westworld (2016), John Carter (2012), 127 Hours (2010), Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), Con Air (1997), Thelma and Louise (1991), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Canyonlands National Park, meanwhile, was used to shoot Baraka (1992) and Koyaanisqatsi (1982), along with many classic westerns.
Taking into account the work done by internet sleuths, and the fact that Westworld was shot at Dead Horse Point State Park in 2016, another plausible theory is that someone from the show probably got bored and decided to get creative with extra metal lying around.
Alas, the monolith’s origins and its disappearance will remain a mystery—for now. If the thing was left there by visiting aliens, thank you for distracting us from the apocalyptic situation we’re all in. Please ignore the mess.