Wildlife officials in Utah who came across a bizarre monolith “in the middle of nowhere” last week refused to say where exactly where it is, fearing amateur adventurers would get lost trying to find it.
The internet interpreted that as a challenge – and it took just two days to locate, the monolith now a spot for awesome selfies and sweet Instagram videos.
The strange object was first spotted by a Utah Department of Public Safety crew on board a helicopter.
“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” pilot Bret Hutchings told local news station KSL-TV.
“He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!’ And I was like, ‘what.’ And he’s like, ‘There’s this thing back there – we’ve got to go look at it!'”
The monolith was instantly compared to the ones seen in In Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Internet users quickly worked out the general region it would be in, based on the helicopter’s flight path – and it was soon spotted on Google Earth satellite footage.
Past satellite imagery suggests it was installed sometime between August 2015 and October 2016 – the 3m-tall object’s shadow clearly visible in a photo taken October 20, 2016, but absent on August 17, 2015.
Footage uploaded to Instagram account level_up_and_create showed a group of at least eight had found it, armed with cameras.
“It looks like it’s stainless steel,” a man in a hat explains, saying whoever made it “did a pretty good job” at wedging it into the hard red rock below.
The monolith isn’t hollow, appearing to be made up of steel sheets riveted together – hardly the kind of craftsmanship you’d expect if it was forged by a super-intelligent alien species, like in Kubrick’s film and the original Arthur C Clarke book it’s based on.
Another video uploaded by the same account shows another man – also in a hat – proving the monolith is not magnetic (whether this adds or detracts from the alien theory is unclear).
On Reddit, the very kinds of amateur adventurers officials had hoped would stay away took photos with the mystery monolith – one sitting right on top of it.
“It is made of 1/8th sheet steel that is riveted on the seams,” wrote thewierdturnpro. “There is an amount of insulation inside dampening when you strike it. There is epoxy along the base. The road in is not difficult. The hike in from road is not difficult.”
Not the message officials want out there.
“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 authorisation is illegal, no matter what planet you are from,” the Utah Bureau of Land Management said on Twitter.
“Please don’t try and visit the site as the road is not suitable for most Earth-based vehicles… if individuals were to attempt to visit the area, there is a significant possibility they may become stranded and require rescue.”
The monolith’s purpose and origin remains unclear, but the most likely theory is that it may have been the work of New Mexico artist John McCracken, who created similar monoliths and called them art. Problem is, he died in 2011 – at least four years before it appeared in the Utah desert.