Utah monolith toppled by group that said ‘leave no trace’

A group said “leave no trace” as they toppled and removed the mystery monolith Friday that was recently discovered in a remote part of the Utah desert.

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A Colorado photographer was visiting the site of the enigmatic and illegally-installed structure Friday with some friends when they witnessed a group show up and remove it, KSTU reported.

A team of biologists counting bighorn sheep first discovered the metal structure Nov. 18 in what was an undisclosed area of southeastern Utah. Officials did not release its remote location in order to keep potential visitors from becoming stranded trying to locate it. However, through internet sleuthing, its coordinates were discovered, prompting a horde of visitors.

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After reading about the monolith and finding its coordinates posted online, Ross Bernards, an outdoors lifestyle photographer, decided to trek to it. He and his friends arrived around 7 p.m. Friday to see and photograph it under moonlight. They spent about an hour and 40 minutes in the red rock cove by themselves before another group arrived.

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“Four guys rounded the corner and two of them walked forward,” Bernards said on social media. “They gave a couple of pushes on the monolith and one of them said, ‘You better have got (sic) your pictures.’ He then gave it a big push, and it went over, leaning to one side.”

The men rocked the hollow stainless steel structure the other way and it popped out of the sandstone. Then they loaded the pieces onto a wheelbarrow and left. It took them about eight minutes to remove it.

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“Right after it had fallen over and made a loud ‘thud,’ one of them said, ‘This is why you don’t leave trash in the desert,’” Bernards told KSTU.

As the men left, they said “leave no trace.”

Bernards said the group was right to take it. He and his friends camped there overnight. The next day they hiked to the top of a hill and saw a swarm of at least 70 cars headed to visit the site.

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“Cars parking everywhere in the delicate desert landscape. Nobody following a path or each other. We could literally see people trying to approach it from every direction to try and reach it, permanently altering the untouched landscape,” Bernards said on social media. “Mother Nature is an artist, it’s best to leave the art in the wild to her.”

The Bureau of Land Management said visitors have left human waste as well as parked cars on vegetation. Some vehicles have been towed from the undeveloped area. The agency said it did not remove it, and is not investigating its disappearance.

“We recognize the incredible interest the ‘monolith’ has generated worldwide,” Amber Denton Johnson, Bureau of Land Management Monticello field manager, said in a statement. “Even so, it was installed without authorization on public lands and the site is in a remote area without services for the large number of people who now want to see it. Whenever you visit public lands, please follow Leave No Trace principles and federal and local laws and guidance.”

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The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said it was not planning to investigate the disappearance. Authorities comically offered a lineup of various Hollywood aliens as a potential suspect lineup.

“While we take all reports of crime seriously, we do not have the proper resources to devote much time to the appearance and subsequent disappearance/theft of the structure that was discovered in a remote area of public lands within our county,” the agency said on social media. “However, with hundreds visiting the area during the last few days, perhaps someone saw something suspicious.”

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The Utah monolith was most likely an illegal art installation, although it is unclear who created it and when exactly. Satellite images indicate that it was installed sometime between August 2015 and October 2016.

Its appearance led to international interest and at least one copycat. A slightly similar structure appeared Nov. 26 as a prank in Romania but disappeared four days later. It was also installed illegally.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.