A Mysterious Monolith Appears in the Utah Desert, Channeling Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Peo­ple do weird things in the desert. A spokesman for the Utah Divi­sion of Wildlife Resources acknowl­edges that wide­ly under­stood truth in a recent New York Times arti­cle about a mys­te­ri­ous mono­lith dis­cov­ered in Red Rock Coun­try. “A team that was count­ing bighorn sheep by heli­copter spot­ted some­thing odd and land­ed to take a clos­er look,” writes Alan Yuhas. “It was a three-sided met­al mono­lith, about 10 to 12 feet tall, plant­ed firm­ly in the ground with no clear sign of where it came from or why it was there.” What­ev­er the dif­fer­ences in size, shape, and col­or, this still-unex­plained object brings to mind noth­ing so much as 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its most famous mono­lith of all.

Though Stan­ley Kubrick shot that par­tic­u­lar scene in Lon­don’s Shep­per­ton Stu­dios, plen­ty of oth­er pro­duc­tions have made use of the Utah Desert, includ­ing install­ments of the spec­ta­cle-dri­ven Indi­ana Jones and Mis­sion: Impos­si­ble series. But as far as any­one knows, the mono­lith isn’t a piece of set dress­ing.

Crowd­sourc­ing guess­es on social media, the Utah High­way Patrol received such respons­es as “a ‘res­o­nance deflec­tor,’ ‘an eye­sore,’ ‘some good met­al.’ Some the­o­rized, vague­ly, that it was a satel­lite bea­con. Oth­ers joked that it was a Wi-Fi router.” Who­ev­er assem­bled and installed it, they did so with “human-made riv­ets” and a skilled enough hand to cut a per­fect­ly shaped hole into the rock — the kind of com­bi­na­tion of appar­ent skill and inex­plic­a­bil­i­ty that once stirred up so much fas­ci­na­tion over crop cir­cles.

Image by Utah Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safe­ty

The Art News­pa­per’s Gabriel­la Angeleti describes the mono­lith as “resem­bling the free­stand­ing plank sculp­tures of the late Min­i­mal­ist artist John McCrack­en.” Though McCrack­en nev­er offi­cial­ly made an instal­la­tion in the Utah desert, he did spend the last years of his life not far away (at least by the stan­dards of the south­west­ern Unit­ed States) in north­ern New Mex­i­co, and any­one famil­iar with his work will sense a cer­tain affin­i­ty with it in this new­ly dis­cov­ered object. “While this is not a work by the late Amer­i­can artist John McCrack­en,” says a spokesman for the gallery that rep­re­sents him, “we sus­pect it is a work by a fel­low artist pay­ing homage.” Whether or not the mono­lith has an intend­ed mes­sage, the reac­tions now going viral around the world already have many of us won­der­ing how far we’ve real­ly evolved past the apes.

The mono­lith is appar­ent­ly view­able on Google Earth here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When Michel Fou­cault Tripped on Acid in Death Val­ley and Called It “The Great­est Expe­ri­ence of My Life” (1975)

The CIA Puts Hun­dreds of Declas­si­fied Doc­u­ments About UFO Sight­ings Online, Plus 10 Tips for Inves­ti­gat­ing Fly­ing Saucers

Hear the Declas­si­fied, Eerie “Space Music” Heard Dur­ing the Apol­lo 10 Mis­sion (1969)

Watch a New­ly-Cre­at­ed “Epi­logue” For Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (5)
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  • Peggy Gooday says:

    I am so excit­ed and moved by this find­ing. Regard­less of its ori­gin, the piece, to me, is just amaz­ing, breath­tak­ing. It’s sym­bol­ism reach­es into the “old brain”, remind­ing me of the entire­ty of life here on this plan­et, and beyond. I think, in our cur­rent cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal cli­mate, we need­ed to find this sil­very mono­lith in the remote desert. We need to remem­ber our ances­tor’s silent lan­guage, and we need to take moment to stop and pon­der the won­der, the “stuff” that is us. And, here it is, stand­ing mute­ly against the red clay of the desert, still, ground­ed, stat­ing in a most ele­gant tongue, “I am”. And, always will be.

  • Even Steven says:

    With­in a few days some one will be there to dis­man­tle it and take it to a met­al recy­cling yard and get .50 a pound for it. Art and fame dis­solve into crass com­mer­cial­ism. Maybe that was the artist’s inten­tion?

    Loved the idea though and kudos to the per­pe­tra­tors.

  • Debbie says:

    I found a news arti­cle online from Seat­tle in 2001 where this exact same steel mono­lith was locat­ed there for 3 days then it mys­te­ri­ous­ly dis­ap­peared. Google it.…it’s very inter­est­ing!

  • Manro_FX says:

    First of all, I’m not of artis­tic nature.
    Thus it’s dif­fi­cult for me to squat in won­der scratch­ing my head oohing an aahing over­whelmed by beau­ty of the Con­trap­tion.
    Sec­ondary, mono­lith is by def­i­n­i­tion a sol­id object. That means one piece, not a bunch of sheet met­al riv­et­ed togeth­er.
    Who­ev­er did it in his/her/it/ze etc… garage has a sense of humor.

  • Esteban says:

    Go see for your­selves.

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