Hiker drove six hours into Utah desert to see metal monolith before it vanished

A mysterious metal monolith appeared in the Utah desert in mid-November, giving everyone flashbacks to 2001: A Space Odyssey -- and then vanished just as mysteriously around a week later.

But not before David Surber drove more than six hours from Salt Lake City to see it in person.

The angular silver pillar, between three and four metres tall, made headlines after a helicopter crew from Utah Department of Public Safety’s Aero Bureau discovered it accidentally. Some speculated aliens were responsible -- others pointed to an anonymous artist, aiming to cause chaos and joy.

Surber, along with a collection of internet sleuths, just wanted to know where it was and how to see it.

“I think everybody saw that initial report on the news,” Surber told CTV News Channel. “Obviously it’s just a pretty unique object out there, but more importantly, I think there’s very little left, it seems at times, in this world, to get out there and discover. So something new and intriguing.”

If anything could break through the pandemic paralysis, a mysterious monolith would do it.

“The co-ordinates weren’t there initially, but I figured the internet would eventually do its job and figure it out, as it always does,” Surber said.

He said he googled “Utah monolith co-ordinates” a couple days after he first heard of the strange occurrence, and came across a Reddit thread that had tracked down what they believed the location was.

“That team deserves a lot of kudos there for their hard work. I mean, when you think of the ingenuity there, they looked at public flight records for the helicopter flight, they saw where the helicopter went below the radar screen, which indicated that maybe it landed, and then for the next 18 hours, they were scrolling Google Earth.”

The Reddit sleuths found a shadowy image that could have been the monolith, but there was one problem: none of them lived in Utah.

“I happen to be somewhat local, I guess you could say, so I let them know on the thread that I was going to go check out the co-ordinates,” Surber said.

He had to work the day he planned on setting out, so he didn’t get a lot of sleep.

“Left at 10 p.m., and got there around five in the morning,” he said. “I knew I was driving out, six-and-a-half hours, for something that could potentially have just been a vertical stack of red rocks creating a linear shadow, and that wasn’t the monolith at all, but a lot of times, I think it’s about the journey and not necessarily where you’re going, right?”

Surber, who described himself as an “avid hiker,” said he was used to “off-grid hiking” and was familiar with land navigation from his 12 years in the military. But plunging into the Utah desert was still a tough situation.

When Surber arrived at the rough location of the coordinates, it was still dark outside, leaving him to navigate with his iPhone camera and a GPS that had a topographical map to help him see the contour lines of the landscape around him.

“It was eerily quiet. No light pollution, so the sky was beautiful,” he said.

Navigation wasn’t easy.

“I probably went into three of the wrong slot canyons, so I started to get a little worried,” he said.

But as he neared another canyon, the GPS told him he was almost there: only 10 metres from his destination.

“My heart was kind of racing at that moment,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure if he was going to see a streak of silver or just a pile of rocks.

And then, the magical moment.

“The sun was just barely coming up through that slot canyon, and as it cleared the corner, I saw the top of the monolith.”

Surber said he felt “joy and excitement” at the sight of the prize he’d come all this way to see.

Although he did take a celebratory selfie with the monolith, that wasn’t the first thing he did. Knowing he probably wouldn’t have the unusual sight to himself for long, Surber turned off his phone and took a moment with the monolith to simply “enjoy peace and enjoy nature.”

He’s not the only adventurer to venture out to find the monolith, but he may have been one of the first. After he returned home, he shared step-by-step instructions for how to find it on Reddit, and let those in the Reddit thread know some of the details of his visit -- including the fact that when he knocked on the monolith, it sounded “like a cardboard box,” and wasn’t solid or magnetic.

The monolith disappeared sometime last Friday, according to the Utah Bureau of Land Management -- which clarified in their announcement that they had not removed it.

It’s still unknown how the monolith got there and how it was removed, as well as who was responsible for both. A stack of red rocks and a shiny pyramid, about knee high, were left in the metal pillar’s place.

But Surber was satisfied with his journey, and having gotten to see the curiosity before it disappeared.

“I saw 12 shooting stars on the way down and saw some beautiful desert landscapes, so if it ended up being a tall stack of rocks, it still would’ve been worth the trip,” he said.