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Up close with one of those mysterious metal monoliths

I got to hug a monolith before vandals tore it down.

Have you hugged a monolith today?

Amanda Kooser/CNET

My 2020 bucket list had been pretty short: 1) Don't get COVID-19. 2) Survive with grace. But when the mysterious monolith phenomenon started to rock the globe, I added one more: 3) See a monolith. We'll see how the first two go, but I checked off the third.

A monolith appeared in my town of Albuquerque, New Mexico this week, and even our mayor took notice. "We want to believe," tweeted Tim Keller (a noted heavy metal fan) on Monday. 

I had to go see it for myself. Touch it. Look for signs of extraterrestrial origin.

After my visit, vandals tore down the monolith under cover of night. The Albuquerque Police Department later recovered it and shared a photo on Facebook showing officers posing with the monolith in the bed of a pickup truck before transporting it to the crime lab as evidence.

We know there were concerns about individuals who vandalized and took a mysterious monolith that popped up off I-25 in...

Posted by Albuquerque Police Department on Tuesday, December 8, 2020

But here's the story of my interaction with the distinctive sculpture while it was still standing:

I found the monolith, a shiny silver triangle about 10 feet high, near the offices of local publication Albuquerque the Magazine, just off the frontage road to Interstate 25. Hardly a magical, awe-inspiring location, unlike the mystic red rocks that surrounded the original monolith in Utah, which was spotted in November and then quickly disappeared. 

"Feels like people are starting to get a little lazy with their monolith placement," said my CNET colleague and fellow New Mexican Eric Mack

The Albuquerque monolith stands proudly near Interstate 25.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

The monolith is one in a series that have appeared around the globe, from California to Romania. They have triggered speculation that they may be part of an art project, an advertising campaign or even the work of aliens. 

There's something starkly appealing about an angular hunk of metal against the New Mexico sky.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

I can say with certainty the one in Albuquerque is a human creation. It's magnetic, appears to be stainless steel and sports a sticker for Bumblebee Fab, a local metal fabricator, down at the bottom. You can see the welded joints of the triangle. This monolith is clearly a copycat created in a spirit of delight and wonder.

Armed with hand sanitizer, I approached the monolith, photobombing the work of a half dozen other people who were there to document it or take selfies next to the structure. I stuck a magnet on it. Examined the welds. Felt how hot the sun side was and how cold the shaded sides were. 

I could just barely wrap my arms around it, embracing the metal column. I have touched very few human beings since the pandemic began, and here I was bear-hugging a steel pillar. 

The structure felt solid. Unyielding. Elemental, as if it had grown like a silver crystal from the rocks below. There, with my ear resting against the warm side of the monolith, I heard nothing but the beating of my own heart.   

Maybe that's what the monoliths are really here for, to transport our harried selves to an inner realm where we're reminded of our presence on Earth, the way the sun touches our skin, how the ground holds our weight. 

We are all are monoliths, and yet we remain connected. Without our foundations, we are nothing.