SALT LAKE CITY — A Colorado photographer said he watched the now-famous monolith in southeast Utah fall to the ground, and that he knows exactly how and why it disappeared last weekend.
The mystery monolith captured world-wide attention and intrigue after its discovery in a remote area southwest of Moab, on a 4x4 road near the Canyonlands Needles District.
How it ended up in a secret spot a half a mile off the road is still a mystery, but photographer Ross Bernards is shedding light on how it vanished-- and what the group who took it said to him as they hauled it away in pieces.
Ross Bernards goes on adventures for his career.
"I'm an adventure and outdoor lifestyle photographer, that's what I do for a living," he said. "So, my job depends on me finding unique and cool places."
The photographer, who is based in Colorado, explained that he's also a certified canyoneering guide. Bernards said he's worked with outdoor brands like Kelty, Sierra Designs, and Utah-based Ogden Made.
He often finds himself in some of the most remote places in Utah, and said eastern Utah is his "happy place."
When a middle-of-nowhere spot in his happy place found itself in the middle of an international monolith mystery last week, Bernards decided to check it out in person.
He said he wanted to go out to the monolith before it disappeared, or before the masses found out.
"I wanted to go out there and try light painting with my drone," Bernards said.
Just a couple of days after reading an article on the metal formation, Bernards realized the coordinates were posted online. Realizing time was of the essence, he and three friends make the several-hour trek on Friday.
They arrived after dark, and Bernards explained they ended up with the monolith all to themselves.
The four of them took pictures of the monolith in the moonlight. About an hour later, Bernards described what he saw after he said four other visitors walked up.
"Two of them stand back, two of them walk forward and walk up to the monolith and start pushing on it a little bit," he recounted. "And then one of them turns to my friends who are little bit further up the canyon next to it-- where I was a little further back-- and said, 'Hope you got your photos.'"
After that, Bernards said the two gave the monolith a couple of big pushes, and it began to lean over.
"That's when the rest of them came up, and all four of them pushed it over to the one side, and then pushed it back to other side," he remembered. "And it just fell straight onto the ground."
Just like that, Bernards watched the monolith that capitvated and mystified people across the globe, topple over.
"Right after it had fallen over and made a loud 'thud,' one of them said, 'This is why you don't leave trash in the desert,'" Bernards said.
He explained the group began to break the monolith down into pieces to throw in a wheelbarrow.
"As they were loading it up and walking away, they just said, 'Leave no trace,' and left," he said.
Bernards explained that he and his friends camped out overnight, and even cleaned up some of the rivets left behind from the fall of the monolith.
Fast forward to the next morning-- the message from the monolith demolishers on his mind-- Bernards would find he was hardly the only person who set out to see the strange metal sculpture in person.
He took pictures that show several vehicles lined up and parked on the roadway, with more driving down toward the area.
"You could see the road from the dust just coming up, and you could just see car-after-car coming and going," Bernards said. "I mean, we probably saw 70 or 80 different cars there."
He said there were several people in each car, some with dogs wandering off leash.
Bernards talked about how he saw people walking everywhere on the land, some even hiking up the wrong canyon in search of the monolith.
Not to mention, the people had swarmed an area miles up a high clearance, 4x4 road. Bernards described seeing minivans and sedans trying to navigate the road.
He expressed a worry that this would lead to search and rescue calls, and place an undue burden on local authorities as well as the Bureau of Land Management.
"It made me understand exactly why these people did it," he said. "One of the reasons that we didn't stop them, is we all agreed with them."
Bernards said he's been called out by people saying that he was part of the problem, and he said he completely understands.
Bernards said that he practices the "leave no trace" principal and expressed that his job is to visit off-the-beaten path places, responsibly.
He also explained he has a lot of experience with cross-desert navigation and 4-wheel driving.
Still, he said he felt guilty afterward about making the trip.
After seeing the amount of people who showed up, Bernards said the monolith didn't need to be out there.
"Leave the art to places where art should be and let mother nature have her space for art," he said.
And for anyone who is buying into the conspiracy theories about how and why around the mystery metal monument and its sudden disappearance, Bernards can at least set the record straight.
"Aliens were not involved in any way, shape, or form in this thing. They had nothing to do with it. Nor was it some secret government project. None of that had anything to do with it" Bernards said, with a smile and chuckle. "It was clearly an art piece by someone."
An art piece with a wild, whirlwind week, and now part of the desert's past.