SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management has team members on site in San Juan County where the mysterious monolith was first observed last month, assessing and repairing the damage caused by the hordes of people who flocked to the area to take pictures of the shiny structure.
That damage in southeastern Utah includes tire tracks where no trails or roads are located, sensitive vegetation that was trampled, litter and human waste left behind by monolith fans.
"The staff is there to clean up some of the visual evidence of people being out there and to take care of the damage we can readily assess and repair," said BLM spokeswoman Kimberly Finch.
Crews will rake over tire tracks left by vehicles that illegally drove off-road in the area. The idea is to return the landscape to its previous condition and remove all traces of the trash left behind.
Finch said even though the agency asked people to refrain from visiting the monolith due to the lack of amenities like parking and bathrooms, people ignored the pleas and damaged the red rock country as a result.
The discovery of the monolith Nov. 18 stoked a national and international internet sensation after it was first spotted during an aerial surveillance of bighorn sheep by state public safety officials and wildlife officers.
Satellite imagery documents that the tall, three-sided structure was put on the public land sometime between August 2015 and October 2016. It resembled one that appears in the Stanley Kubrick movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."
That connection led to speculation — mostly in jest — that the structure was some otherworldly message in a year fraught with anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic.
Even the San Juan County Sheriff's Office got in on the fun, posting an array of alien characters on its Facebook page who might be likely suspects in the monolith's illegal installation on public land.
The monolith didn't last long in San Juan County, however, after four men visited the site on Nov. 27 and broke it into pieces before hauling it away.
Two extreme sports enthusiasts were part of a group claiming credit for taking down the monolith, an act witnessed by a professional Colorado photographer who was there with three of his friends.
One of the four men who dismantled the monolith told the photography group, "This is why you don't leave trash in the desert."
The parting words from one of those men were, "Leave no trace," a campaign by federal land agencies like the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service to leave the landscape as it were found when camping, hiking or participating in other outdoor activities.
An Associated Press story detailed the Thursday removal of another monolith in California by a group of young men chanting, "Christ is king," who then planted a cross in its place.
Finch said the removal of the monolith in San Juan County is outside the purview of the agency.
"We are only investigating the installation, which was not authorized. The BLM is coordinating with the U.S. Attorney's Office during our investigation on who installed the structure we term as the monolith. We don't have any details to share at this time because it is a pending investigation."
She added the BLM has its own investigator working the case of the monolith's illegal installation.