The Metal Artists Behind The California Monolith Explain How It Got There — And Why It's Back

Photo: Wade McKenzie
Wade McKenzie, Jared Riddle and Travis Kenney after installing the third monolith in California
Entertainment And News

The metal artists behind the monolith found in California on December 2 have come forward to reveal their identities and explain how the nearly 10 foot high, 200 pound stainless steel structure first made its way to the top of Pine Mountain, as well as how and why it's now back where it belongs.

The photo below was taken late on the evening of December 4, after members of the tightly knit community came together to restore not only the third monolith itself, but the exuberantly joyful spirit that had been so rudely torn out from under them the day before.

The Atascadero monolith — technically an obelisk — was the third discovered in the last month.

The first monolith was found by public safety workers in a remote Utah desert on November 18. Though it seems to have been there for years before it was found, it disappeared almost as suddenly as the world learned of it on November 27.

The same day, a second monolith appeared in Romania, only to disappear from it's mountain-top location outside the city of Piatra Neamt on December 2.

On that same day, a third monolith appeared at the top of Pine Mountain in Stadium Park.

Who is responsible for the monolith found in California?

The four men who created and installed the third monolith are Travis Kenney, his father Randall Kenney, Wade McKenzie and Jared Riddle.

McKenzie and the Kenneys are life-long residents of Atascadero, a sleepy town on the coast of Central California. Travis Kenney and McKenzie have been exceptionally close friends for pretty much their whole lives. Riddle is Kenney's cousin. All think of each other as brothers. They are fabricators and artists who share a deep appreciation for each other and their local community.

As it did for all of us, 2020 rocked their worlds in the worst ways.

Business has been tough. Peace of mind has been hard to come by. And just a few week ago, McKenzie suffered the loss of his father, Gary, who passed away suddenly due to COVID-19-related complications.

After learning of the second monolith, Travis had a thought: There were three monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Why not build the third themselves and make the triad complete?

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The close-knit team worked quickly, building their steel obelisk in the span of a few hours.

Randall had been friends with McKenzie's dad. The time the four men spent together that evening bringing their vision to life offered each some sorely needed purpose, comfort and laughs.

Travis Kenney and Wade McKenzie as their project was getting under way.

Photo: Wade McKenzie

Once it was done, McKenzie, Riddle and Kenney bundled up their sculpture, drove it to nearby Stadium Park, and carried it up the two-mile, 1,300-foot trail to the top of Pine Mountain.

Wade McKenzie, Jared Riddle and Travis Kenney stand by their creation after hiking it to the top of Pine Mountain in the early hours of December 2.

Photo: Wade McKenzie

The monolith was discovered by local hikers the following morning.

News of its appearance sent major media outlets, Twitter, and Reddit into a frenzy.

But the newly installed monolith brought something more meaningful to the coastal community in which it stood — happiness.

Speaking with local reporter Alexa Bertola that morning, Atascadero resident Brian Jeffrey expressed gratitude for the fun diversion.

"I think that in times like this it's really nice to take our minds off of things, and whoever did this, thank you," Jeffrey said.

All the thanks these men really needed was delivered in the positive energy that quickly took hold of their home town. The presence of this now internationally followed mysterious object brought with it an uplifting local pride, as well as a sense of childlike wonder.

"The purpose of this project was to create a positive and encouraging environment in a rather negative 2020, a year that has been plagued with health issues, political separation, and systemic racism," said Riddle. "This event separated all of that!"

The monolith's creators quietly made the hike back up to observe people's reactions throughout the day. When they arrived at the top each time, they found themselves soaking in the glow of the many smiles they encountered on faces of visitors. some of whom drove for hours to see the shining obelisk for themselves.

Concerned about safety after watching a few rowdy visitors to the site attempt to knock the monolith over, they chose to risk outing themselves by heading back up the hill after nightfall to more carefully secure it in place.

Photo: Wade McKenzie

On the morning of December 3, the third monolith was gone.

Unfortunately, some extra rebar wasn't enough to save the monolith from a group of bizarrely triggered men.

As Vice soon reported, a group of young men drove at least five hours up the coast in the middle of a pandemic for the sole purpose of destroying the monolith, livestreaming themselves on blockchain file-sharing site DLive along the way.

In the full video, which has since been removed, they could be seen vaping, threatening one another, and making racist statements. Some wore combat helmets with night-vision goggles, and at least one was adorned in military fatigues and camouflage face paint.

A short clip captures one of the men as he declares, “Christ is king in this country. We don’t want illegal aliens from Mexico OR outer space. So let’s tear this b-tch down.”

The group proceeds to chant "Christ is king" as they rock the monolith back and forth, only temporarily frustrated in their efforts by the safety measures added shortly before their arrival.

Before heading home, the men stuck a large wooden cross in the ground, posed for photos with the fruits of their destruction, and dragged the metal sculpture down the hillside.

"It was a learning experience," one said. "Nobody got arrested. It was fine because it was funny."

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Perhaps they should have said, "Nobody got arrested... yet."

The people of Atascadero have so far failed to see the humor.

“We are upset that these young men felt the need to drive five hours to come into our community and vandalize the monolith,” said Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno. “The monolith was something unique and fun in an otherwise stressful time.”

The City of Atascadero owns and maintains 75 acres of the Stadium Park area. The five-acre entrance is owned and maintained by the Atascadero Land Preservation Society (ALPS). The Atascadero Police Department has said they are reviewing the video, posted under the title "Monolith Raid," and that they are looking into the incident further.

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As for the men who built the monolith, they decided to come forward now in the hope that the appearance of a third monolith will be remembered as an act of love.

While you may think of these monoliths as another square on your 2020 bingo card, it's worth noting that the purpose of the monoliths in 2001: A Space Odyssey was to further the advancement of intelligent life.

Cynics can say that sounds cheesy, but for the sake of full disclosure, I know McKenzie personally and can affirm without doubt or irony that they wanted nothing more than to offer their fellow humans some joyful light in these dark times.

"There was no esoteric agenda," said McKenzie.

"Our topline," added Riddle, "Let's get outside and laugh."

Not the kind of folks to be easily encouraged or intimidated, and determined not to allow the town's monolith to be remembered for the hateful act that brought it down, the four men, McKenzie's son Chance, and a full crew of local friends headed back to the shop to rebuild their steel obelisk.

This time around, the welding got serious (mostly).

All photos above: Wade McKenzie

And so, the third monolith is now back where it should be — on Pine Mountain.

After making the decision to come forward and risk public scruntiny during a time when so many seem hungry to tear others down at the sight of any perceived flaw or misstep, the four men who originally built the third monolith say that this time around, it was a community who came together to erect an obelisk that would withstand anyone seeking to bring them down with negative intentions.

Here's hoping the restored monolith continues to bring fun, hope and unity to the people of Atascadero and anyone who chooses to share in their positive California vibes.

Statement from Travis Kenney, one of the artists who created the California monolith:

"I am part of the four man group (three friends and a dad) who would like to explain why we placed the monolith on Pine Mountain.

We are locals who are hikers, bikers, artists, fabricators and fathers, all raising our kids in this community.

After seeing the positive public interest, enthusiasm and most importantly, the sense of fun that the Utah monolith created, and knowing the basis of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey includes three monoliths and two had already appeared, we thought installing a third would be a great way to get people outside and exploring. It was meant to be something fun, a change of pace from the kind of conversations 2020 has been plagued with — so much negativity and separation among the people in our country.

We do understand both sides of the controversy surrounding the Utah monolith. We have our own local issues with our beaches plagued by trash and the inability of people to leave nature as they found it. But we are still believers in humans trying to be good people, which is why we elected to do this.

It started as a fun idea over lunch on Tuesday — 11 hours later, we had it placed.

We spent the next morning hiking the area, running into people who all had positive things to say and a smile on their face. It was great to hear from people who got outside just to come see the monolith. There were so many good stories and laughs. Over the 24 hours that followed, we did not witness a single piece of trash dropped in the area.

I can tell you that three guys carried that structure up a 1,300-foot hill to place it there.

We knew it would come down, and laughed at all the ideas of who it would be, when, and what they would do next.

What we did not intend was to create a platform for someone to propagate their own agenda using the monolith to gain attention. After the destruction, they threw the monolith off the side of a hill, leaving it there with no plan to dispose of it safely.

All of that for their 150 followers? Sad.

We will not let these folks looking to create more division among people succeed in their twisted agenda.

We have retrieved and re-erected the monolith.

To reiterate what the Mayor said, no one needs to drive five hours to ruin the fun local folks are having. They can stick around their own hometown if they want to foster their agenda. We do not need another event trying to divide our great country and local community.

We appreciate the time and support of those who have shared their positive energy and support."

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Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Find her on Twitter and Instagram for more.