The Secret Behind That Mysterious Monolith Might Have Been Revealed

With a global pandemic, contested election and murder hornets dominating the headlines in 2020, a bizarre metal monolith in the Utah desert offered a pleasant, yet no less intriguing distraction. The object was sleek and metal in stark contrast to the red rocks that surrounded it and was clearly reminiscent of the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey (on YouTube)where apes discover a similar-looking monolith in the desert.

When it was first spotted on November 18, questions immediately arose online, including, what is it? And who put it there? Authorities didn't have an answer. The San Juan County Sheriff's Office shared a joke "Most Wanted" poster with nine alien faces and posted it to Facebook for a laugh, but it didn't seem like anyone had any idea who put it there and no one reported any stolen property.

Ten days later, the monolith disappeared and the questions that arose when it was first spotted have been supplanted by where did it go, and a general, why? Now, while many of those questions remain shrouded in mystery, there have been eyewitness accounts of those who took it down and an indication of their mission.

Four men were spotted removing the monolith

According to The New York Times, photographer Ross Bernards drove six hours to take pictures of the monolith late on Friday night. He used Lume Cube lights attached to a drone to take some awesome science fiction-style pics that have been posted to his Instagram page. But as he took a break before using his last drone battery, four men arrived and two of them approached the monolith.

"They gave a couple of pushes on the monolith and one of them said 'You better have got your pictures,'" Bernards wrote on Instagram. "He then gave it a big push, and it went over, leaning to one side."

One of them then looked over to Bernards and said: "This is why you don't leave trash in the desert."

After that, the mysterious foursome came up and pushed it to one side before hauling it back the other way. It finally popped out and landed on the ground with a "loud bang." They proceeded to break the monolith apart, exposing its hollow innards and plywood-enforced structure and hauled it away via wheelbarrow. One of the men then looked back at Bernards and said: "Leave no trace," which happens to be one of desert festival Burning Man's 10 Principles.

The monolith was attracting destructive crowds

Bernards told The New York Times he didn't take photos because he didn't want to start a fight. His friend, Michael James Newlands, did, however, snapping a few pics on his phone that show the men hauling away the monolith.

The pictures are proof, but why didn't the two men stop them? Bernards responded to that question on Instagram by saying that he agreed with them. "They were right to take it out," he wrote.

"It must have been 10 or 15 minutes at most for them to knock over the monolith and pull it out," he told The Times. "We didn't know who they were, and we were not going to do anything to stop them." He added, "They just came in there to execute and they were like, 'This is our mission.'"

The monolith attracted a huge crowd to the desert, some of whom left behind trash. "We could literally see people trying to approach it from every direction to try and reach it, permanently altering the untouched landscape," Bernards added. "Mother Nature is an artist, it's best to leave the art in the wild to her."

Banksy of the desert?

It's unclear whether the four men who removed the sculpture were the ones who put it up or if they were just angry about the litter being left behind by its visitors. Further questions remain about a copycat monolith that popped up in Romania, as reported to Sky News. And it seems we're no closer to finding out who's responsible.

Some have speculated that the artist put it up as a statement — a Banksy of the desert, as it were. As The New York Times reports, others have suggested it's something California-born artist John McCracken would do, but he died in 2011 and the New York art dealer who represents the artist's estate told The Times he doesn't know who made it.

Sadly, that leaves us without a resolution to the mystery. For all we know, little green men swooped down and put it in and these guys were just passionate about keeping the desert clean. Whoever — or whatever — put it up, at least it distracted us from the dumpster fire that is 2020.