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Unraveling The Mystery Of The Metal Sculpture Found In Utah


You may have seen this news. Biologists in Utah looking for bighorn sheep from a helicopter this week spied a mystery instead...


SIMON: ...A metal upright cut into the stone of deep, rocky wilderness. Authorities declined to say exactly where. They approached and investigated like the primates - I suppose we should say the other primates - in a Stanley Kubrick film. Well, Zak Podmore is a reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune, and he has seen it with his own eyes and joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Podmore.

ZAK PODMORE: Pleasure to be here. Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: This is NPR. And we are told by our research people, it's not a monolith because it's not a stone. It's not cut from a single piece. It's not an obelisk because it doesn't taper. It doesn't have a pyramidal apex. You know, we're lousy with liberal arts majors in our audience. What's it look like to you?

PODMORE: Well, we did hear from the former Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones that it is not a monolith, like you say. It's made out of sheets of stainless steel that are riveted together. It's a prism shape, so three sides, about 10 feet tall from the ground. So I don't know the proper nomenclature, but it's there. And it's fairly shiny.

SIMON: I mean, is it imposing? Is it - what do you feel while looking at it?

PODMORE: I mean, you can really tell a lot of thought went into the placement of this sculpture. It's in an almost perfectly flat alcove lined up with a little narrow slot canyon in the red rock. Picture a dry waterfall that's just a couple of feet wide. So when you're standing in it, you get this really incredible contrast between the harsh angles of the sculpture and the texture and color of the stainless steel against the red rock sandstone canyons that you may have seen from pictures or from visits to the Moab area. So it's really beautifully done as a piece of art in that sense.

SIMON: So I gather there's speculation - the late sculptor John MacCracken - from his agent that he may have had something to do with this before he died in 2011. Have you - are you familiar with that?

PODMORE: Yeah. I've heard those reports as well. I've heard both from the agent that it could have been his work. It could have been an homage to him by his students. So yeah, I don't know. I don't have anything else to support that theory beyond the speculation that's already been out there.

SIMON: And no one has come forward to say they had a hand in it, I gather.

PODMORE: Not that I've heard of. But if anyone wants to come out, I offer a Banksy-style, you know, voice distortion interview.

SIMON: (Laughter).

PODMORE: They can write me at the Salt Lake Tribune, and we'll get the story out.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. Well, you understand why aliens from another dimension would be - you know, loathe to accept an offer like that, right?

PODMORE: (Laughter) I don't know. There might be some fame-seeking aliens out there.

SIMON: Are people flocking the area now?

PODMORE: For this very remote piece of Utah desert that's really far away from any pavement at the end of a really long, bumpy dirt road - in that sense, yes, people are flocking to it. But, you know, it still doesn't have that much traffic compared to other more famous places in the Utah desert, of course. And the BLM, the Bureau of Land Management, is recommending people don't attempt to go out there because of its remote location and because of the condition of the road and all of that. They're worried people will get stranded or hurt trying to find this.

SIMON: Now, I gather the object, the sculpture, has been placed in the area illegally. But Bureau of Land Management says it has no plans to remove it.

PODMORE: Yeah. They said they're going to leave it there for the time being. The structure was cut into the rock with a rock saw, which is certainly illegal to do without permission. And also, you're not allowed to, you know, leave a few hundred pounds of stainless steel out in federal land either. One of the fears is that, you know, this will become something of a trend. And there'll be pieces of what some might consider litter left around the desert in an attempt to replicate this piece of art.

SIMON: Mr. Podmore, you have seen this object, this piece of art - obelisk, monolith, whatever people are calling it. So I have to ask you. Are we alone?

PODMORE: (Laughter) My lips are sealed.

SIMON: Zak Podmore of the Salt Lake Tribune - we thought we could crack this story open with him. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

PODMORE: Thanks for having me on, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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