Two adventure sportsmen who advocate a “Leave No Trace” philosophy towards nature, have stepped forward to say they were part of the team who removed the Utah monolith — the celebrated structure discovered in a remote, southeast section of the state.
Utah residents Andy Lewis and Sylvan Christensen posted a 23-second video showing the monolith, once embedded into the rock, being dismantled, loaded onto a wheel barrow and carried away at night.
Lewis, a 34-year-old BASE jumping guide, posted the video to his YouTube account, Mr. Slackline, saying the group removed the monolith the night of Nov. 27.
Adventure guide Christensen posted the video to his TikTok account Tuesday, The participants’ faces are blurred to prevent recognition.
“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,” Christensen wrote on an Instagram post, urging people to protect valuable public lands. “Things like this don’t help.”
In an email to USA TODAY, Christensen said he received “death threats and threats of physical harm and hate speech” following the social media posts. Lewis confirmed to the Salt Lake City Tribune that he had posted the video.
In the Instagram post featuring the #LeaveNoTrace hashtag, Christensen said the internationally celebrated monolith was inflicting damage to the pristine, remote region and threatened even more of a detrimental impact.
“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,” Christensen wrote in his Instagram post. “Furthermore, we were too late.”
He cited “ethical failures” of the still-mysterious artist who made a “gouge” in the sandstone to erect the object,
But that “was not even close to the damage caused by the internet sensationalism and subsequent reaction from the world,” Christensen wrote. “This land wasn’t physically prepared for the population shift (especially during a pandemic).”
He described visitors flocking to the remote area in southeast Utah “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.”
The Utah Department of Public Safety originally discovered the monolith embedded into the remote rocks Nov. 18 during an expedition counting bighorn sheep. The exact location was initially not disclosed in an effort to stop individuals locating it, in part because of the damage visitors would inflict on the area.
Days after the Bureau of Land Management revealed the structure had disappeared, travel photographer Ross Bernards, on the site with his friend Mike Newlands, revealed he saw four unidentified men remove it.
“They took it away for a few reasons,” Newlands told USA TODAY. “It’s litter. Public lands are to be respected, and this was out-of-place in a pristine and sensitive environment.”
USA TODAY has reached out to the San Juan County Sheriff’s office for comment on any police investigation into the removal. Asked if they were focusing on any suspects, Alan Freestone, chief deputy with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, told the New York Times, “I know they have some leads, and that’s all we are saying right now.”
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