Tourists raced to see the mysterious monoliths that appeared in the Utah and California desert moments before they disappeared

monolith, UFO, Utah

  • Three monoliths have mysteriously appeared all over the world. No one knows where they came from.
  • Most of them were taken down soon after being discovered.
  • Four travelers who managed to see the mysterious monoliths in California and Utah before they disappeared described crowds vying to visit.
  • Shomari Rivero told Insider his experience was "extremely trippy."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When he discovered that the Utah monolith's exact coordinates had been shared on Reddit, photographer Ross Bernards, who had been planning a trip to visit it already after having figured out the monolith's location himself, jumped into his car and drove six hours to see it, hoping to avoid crowds.

He and three friends drove about 330 miles from Edwards, Colorado, and arrived after dark, driving down a dirt road for an hour and a half until they found a place where they could park safely. They hiked across slick rock, using headlamps to light the way.

He was shocked to find traffic.

Dozens of cars filled with tourists searching for the monolith clogged a narrow dirt road in Utah's desert

"The whole time, we were just passing cars," Bernards told Insider. "I've spent a lot of time out there in Utah and drive down a ton of dirt roads, and even on some of the ones in the national parks I've never seen that many cars coming out." 

Still, he and his friends managed to have the monolith to themselves for a while, taking photos with drones.

That is until a group of four men appeared at around 8.40 p.m., who Bernards said knocked the monolith down with three good pushes before carting it off in a wheelbarrow.

"They just turned around and said 'leave no trace' and walked off," he told Insider.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CIOOkwMBkAS

He calls his timing — and having had the monolith to himself for an hour before it was removed — "dumb luck." 

He said he thinks the structure consisted of three metal sheets — he's guessing aluminum — riveted together into a triangular shape with a hollow interior. 

"No crazy alien technology involved," he joked.

He thinks that the monolith was an ode to artist John McCracken, who created similarly minimalist structures until he passed away in 2011, and that the rest are just copycats.

The morning after seeing the monolith, Bernards said he went on a hike in the area, and from a ridge saw almost 40 cars parked below, with dozens more cycling in and out, as well as a plane. "It was just kind of startling," he said, adding that these people were nowhere near where the monolith had been.

The California monolith at sunset.
Max Zappas

Bernards is an avid hiker and camper and very familiar with public lands' "leave no trace" practices. He said he knows to walk on slick rock to avoid damaging soil or plants, for example.

It was discomfiting for him to see so many novices wandering around the desert, trampling over everything, getting lost, he told Insider. He said it's easy to get turned around there, adding that the many visitors were not only endangering the natural environment, but they were also posing a safety risk and putting a huge stressor on the Bureau of Land Management and the sheriff's department.

"It was a good thing that it got taken away," he said of the monolith. "I want everyone to enjoy the public lands, but the tenets of 'leave no trace,' and understanding those, and making sure that we're being stewards of the lands, is really important."

The California monolith was removed in a single day, but not before several tourists rushed to see it

Shomari Rivero, a frontline healthcare worker from Union City, California, said he traveled 416 miles roundtrip after an exhausting shift in the ER to see the monolith in Atascadero, California.

Shomari Rivero arrived at the California monolith at midnight.
Shomari Rivero

"It is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he told Insider. "Just being one of the few to be part of this experience was worth it."

Rivero arrived at the Monolith at midnight on December 2 — the next day it was gone.

He said that finding it was "sheer luck and adrenaline" as it was dark and cold when he went.

"The hike up to it was extremely nerve-racking since I had never been in this area, was wearing Crocs, and it was pitch black," he said.

He found the monolith around midnight and said he came across around a dozen people at the time. He called the experience "exhausting and extremely trippy."

He believes that the monolith was made of aluminum and described it as very sturdy and heavy, as well as cold to the touch. "The temperature suddenly dropped by like 7 degrees as I was arriving, which gave it a paranormal feel," he said.

While he jokes that the monolith could have been created by aliens, his main theory is that it's "the work of a really rich tech CEO who is bored and wants to entertain themselves."

Max Zappas, a real estate broker and developer from Atascadero who also said he saw the California monolith, described the monolith as "an international mystery" he had to see with his own eyes. 

Max Zappas, his girlfriend, and his dog, were among the first people to visit the California monolith.
Max Zappas

He told Insider that he ran to the monolith with his girlfriend as soon as the news about it broke and was one of the first people there, beating both police and most news reporters.

However, as the news spread, he said people soon "started pouring in," despite night falling.

"It was really beautiful, and the setting sun made the scene picturesque and perfect," he said. But he added that the monolith actually had a "beige, dull appearance" from too many fingerprints and people touching it.

Max Zappas said the monolith looked almost beige because of fingerprints.
Max Zappas

He said that the monolith was clearly manmade, which somewhat surprised him, and constructed of three pieces of sheet metal welded and riveted into a triangular shape. He assumes there was a solid inner core since it was sturdy.

Andy Miller, a professional product photographer from the area, said he visited the California monolith around 11 p.m. the night it first appeared and was surprised by how many other people he encountered on the way.

"We thought we'd be some of the only ones," he told Insider. "We ultimately crossed paths with at least a dozen other people either heading down or up the mountain."

While he assumes the California monolith was just a copycat, and possibly a marketing stunt, he said "regardless of who's behind it, I appreciate the mystery. It's made for a surprisingly communal opportunity despite the surrealness of it all."

"But let's be real," he said, "this is not the weirdest thing to happen in 2020."

Three monoliths have popped up around the world

Andy Miller and friends Phil, Ian, and Jed, arrived at the California monolith at around 11 p.m.
Andy Miller

To date, three monoliths have been discovered. All seem to be made of metal sheets welded together at the top to form a circa 10-foot triangular structure.

The first, in the Utah desert south of Moab, was found on November 18, though Insider reporters Haven Orecchio-Egresitz and Aylin Woodward wrote that Google Earth maps indicate that it may have been there since between August 2015 and October 2016.

It was reportedly removed by an extreme-sports YouTuber and his friends on Friday, November 27. In a statement, the YouTuber claims to have done it to protect the desert, which he said was getting destroyed by the increased foot traffic.

That same day, a similar-looking monolith was found in Romania on a hill near the town of Piatra Neamt, though it disappeared after four days. Unlike the other monoliths, it was reportedly covered in interconnected circles.

A third monolith appeared on top of Pine Mountain in Atascadero, California, on December 2. This one was removed only a day later, reportedly by a group of men chanting "Christ is king," who replaced it with a cross.

Their origins remain a mystery

No one knows where these monoliths came from.
Max Zappas

No one knows who erected these monoliths. However, Insider's Aylin Woodward writes that a leading theory, first reported by The New York Times, suggests that the Utah structure was created by John McCracken himself before his death in 2011.

Insider's Bill Bostock reports that another popular theory is that the original monolith was an homage to the 1968 Arthur C. Clarke novel and Stanley Kubrick film "2001: A Space Odyssey," writing that "In the book and the film, a monolith arrives on Earth to dispense wisdom to human ancestors."

No matter who placed them there, would-be viewers seemingly need to act fast to see them before they disappear.

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