It’s been almost a month since we last heard anything about the mysterious monolith in Lockhart Basin, Utah. Recall: it was discovered on November 23, while wildlife biologists were conducting a survey of Bighorn sheep, it soon attracted a flurry of tourists, and then disappeared four days later. It was removed overnight by four self-described adventurers and members of the Moab slack and grassroots jump scene: Andy Lewis, Sylvan Christensen, Homer Manson, and an anonymous partner.
But the Monolith is back, mostly intact and now under the protection of the Land Administration after a spate of death threats, a federal investigation, and the launch of a nonprofit. However, the question remains: For starters?
First, the investigation.
After the removal of the monolith, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Utah, USA, opened an investigation, investigating who took the piece, and who put it there in the first place. Christensen had already posted a video on TikTok claiming responsibility for the theft, so answering the first question was easy. But holding onto the Monolith while the second half of the investigation was underway would be considered an obstruction of justice. “The idea is that someone dropped the art and knew the place, and for whatever reason that caused damage to the environment, they should investigate who put it there,” Lewis (who is also known by the nickname Sketchy Andy) said in a video call. “So they need to look at it and see if they can find clues.”Following a cooperation agreement and the involvement of lawyers, it was determined that the men would return to Monolith on a set date and that the BLM would not be prosecuted or further investigated.
This is standard procedure for BLM. Basically, everything that happens on BLM land is BLM business, even property research, which wasn’t an agency to begin with. And he doesn’t want to set a precedent for people to go out on public land and pick up things. This raises a more philosophical question about who owns the art, as well as how the BLM will treat the attempt at art on public lands in the future.
BLM officials have not commented on any specific details of the investigation. “We understand that the public has a strong interest in the status and outcome of any investigation into the installation and removal of the illegally installed structure known as the ‘monolith,’ “a BLM spokesperson wrote in an email. “We will notify the public when we have information to share.”
According to four slackliners, the decision to steal it was obvious. “There was a lot of talk around the monolith, like who put it there,” Lewis said. “Unfortunately, it was all a cascade. That’s because it’s a symbol, isn’t it?”
The symbol of the incomprehensible. A symbol that this has been a tough year and we all needed something else to focus on? A symbol that we should stop and consider our impact on public lands? A symbol that no one will overdo an incomplete Andy in their backyard?
But the waterfall mentioned by Lewis is not an understatement. In the days after the monolith’s discovery, thousands of people pour into Moab, a small city on the edge of the desert ‘ ready to bend under the weight of tourism. Copied monoliths appeared in Romania, California, and New Zealand, only to disappear soon after. In Christensen’s Instagram feed, shortly after the monolith was removed, Utahhe Public Land Mon wrote: “We are removing public land because there are clear precedents for how to share and standardize the use of ours … the secret was falling in love and we want to use this time to bring people together here we lose our real problem, such things don’t help”
Lewis described the removal of the monument as a “chaotic-neutral” decision called what he and his friends did. “Obviously, he can’t stay there,” Lewis said, describing his thought process. “He just can’t, because he’s become destiny. Obviously, we don’t want to take it, it’s not ours. And we don’t want to destroy it, because it’s art. Our decision as a crew was that the chaotic-neutral solution was to remove it as completely intact as possible.”
They also said they started hearing rumors of other plans to steal it. “We heard other people say,’ Oh, good job, we were behind you, ‘” said Manson, who was born in Moab. “We literally went through them, and it was the next people who came to knock him down.However, in the rush, the group lost the top of the monolith, which was already free of numerous visitors trying to break in. “We want whoever is missing a piece to return it,” said Lewis, who kept the monolith in pieces at a friend’s house and at another undisclosed location until he was forced to return it to the BLM.
On Sunday, Lewis posted a video of the monolith shining in the sunlight of what appears to be a backyard, followed by a lengthy post about the reasons it was removed and how the monolith differs from the slacklines, climbing bolts, and space nets that he and his friends regularly erect in the desert. (Among other things, the crew was accused of taking a hypocritical stance on the human impact on the desert.”Everything has its place,” read. “That’s what conservation is all about. It was a tragedy to remove the Utah Monolith, as it was beautiful; and we apologize.”
The reaction associated with the removal of the monolith was relentless. The men received death threats and phone calls to the companies where each of them worked. “I had a guy call me and just breathe on the phone,” Lewis said. “The people who said they were going to hunt us were going to finish us off.”
However, the men stuck to their beliefs, citing the principles of Leave Non Trace. “Andy did it right before,” Christensen said. “We are all mostly adventurers and users of public lands in this area, and through this we have gained knowledge about the misuse and ignorance and some of the problems we face.”
Which brings us to a non-profit organization. “I think we chose a name,” Christensen said. “The Desert Canyon Collective.His goal now – and his hope for the future as a result of the Monolith Madness-is to raise awareness of ethical recreation on public lands, as well as to help other nonprofits in the area already dedicated to the topic. They also said they would conduct their own garbage cleanup in the desert, which Christensen and Manson described as anything from downed planes and abandoned cars to broken glass along the river. “[These are] places that we use regularly, ” Manson said.
And the Monolith? The investigation into its origin is still ongoing, and so far no one has legally applied for it. (Although some try to capitalize on the cultural phenomenon.Once you conclude, people that experience will trigger a conversation around public lands. Christensen referred to the gentleman’s agreement to place him in Salt Lake City in the Red Butte Garden of the University of Utah. “We pulled it out because we wanted to have the voice and the power to give people the perspective they need,” Lewis said. Christensen nodded and added, ” We don’t destroy art. We’ve changed its direction and made it a bigger thing that surrounds the ecological consciousness and ethical re-creation of the earth.”