Andy Lewis and Sylvan Christensen Removed Mysterious Utah Monolith, “We are losing our public lands”

Published on December 22, 2020

A group of local outdoor enthusiasts have taken responsibility for the disappearance of the mysterious Utah monolith that was found earlier this month. The presumed art installment was located in the Southern Utah Desert just outside of Moab, Utah—a small town known for its outdoor recreation. The monolith’s appearance, which no one has taken credit for just yet, quickly attracted masses of adventure seekers wanting to take a peek at the art installment for themselves.

In a public Facebook post that was published on Tuesday, several Moab locals took credit for removing the monolith around 8:30 pm on November 27. The Facebook post came with a YouTube video of the group removing the monolith from the Utah desert at night. The 24 second video includes only a clip of the monolith being wheeled across the desert floor. “The safe word is run,” one of them says as a flashlight illuminates the art installment being carried away.

A local man named Andy Lewis and a small crew appear to be the ones to have removed the monolith from the desert. In the Facebook post, Lewis does not explain why he and his crew removed the art installment, but other outlets have reported that people that witnessed the event understood it to be for environmental reasons. One man that witnessed it being removed said that the four men that removed the monolith made comments about the environment, according to the New York Times. Locals have reported that the area where the installment was located—although it was public land—was being left covered in garbage, human waste and other destruction that will likely scar the land permanently. Utah locals, while welcoming of tourism, are often protective of the land that is home to the Ute and Navajo people.

“We removed the Utah Monolith because there are clear precedents for how we share and standardize the use of our public lands, natural wildlife, native plants, fresh water sources, and human impacts upon them,” said Andy Lewis and Sylvan Christensen in a statement to Grit Daily on Tuesday. Lewis and Christensen take credit as two of the people that removed the monolith. “The mystery was the infatuation and we want to use this time to unite people behind the real issues here— we are losing our public lands— things like this don’t help. Let’s be clear: The dismantling of the Utah Monolith is tragic— and if you think we’re proud— we’re not. We’re disappointed. Furthermore, we were too late. We want to make clear that we support art and artists, but legality and ethics have defined standards– especially here in the desert— and absolutely so in adventuring. The ethical failures of the artist for the 24” equilateral gouge in the sandstone from the erecting of the Utah Monolith, was not even close to the damage caused by the internet sensationalism and subsequent reaction from the world. This land wasn’t physically prepared for the population shift (especially during a pandemic). People arrived by car, by bus, by van, helicopter, planes, trains, motorcycles and E-bikes and there isn’t even a parking lot. There aren’t bathrooms— and yes, pooping in the desert is a misdemeanor. There was a lot of that. There are no marked trails, no trash cans, and its not a user group area. There are no designated camp sites. Each and every user on public land is supposed to be aware of the importance and relevance of this information and the laws associated with them. Because if you did, anyone going out there and filming the monolith and monetizing it without properly permitting the use of the land— would know that’s an offense too. BLM currently has a huge job of managing millions of acres of land and millions of users using them. BLM already meets with so many active communities where we create and develop standards, usually learned from making mistakes. Leaders and business owners alike help designate user group areas that allow for certain uses of the public land in certain places. Some of them are permanent use like bike trails or jeep trails, some are semi-permanent like bolts and hangers. Some user group areas limit use like the Corona Arch Hiking user group area, that disallows roped activity, but allows hiking. We encourage artists to create, land management to mange, and the community to take responsibility for their actions and property. What we need right now is a massive movement in the direction towards education of use and management of our lands— not a distraction from it,” read the statement from Lewis and Christensen.

Reports of the destruction of the land in the area angered many Utah locals, who felt that the piece served as a spectacle rather than an opportunity for people to safely visit the area and honor the land it sat on. Located just 17 miles Southwest of Moab in the Lockhart Basin, the monolith sat near Canyonlands National Park in an area that is largely preserved and known for its striking and rare beauty. While the mysterious art installment served as a major publicity tool for the area, it came without the warning that those wanting to visit the monolith should honor leave no trace policies and put the environment first.

This piece was updated with a response from Lewis and Christensen at 4:30 pm on Tuesday.

Editor’s Note: This piece was updated on December 22, 2020. It was originally published on December 1, 2020.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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