Earlier this week, videos were posted to Youtube depicting arches and hoodoos—boulders suspended on columns of rock—being destroyed with explosives. The videos didn’t disclose the location of the explosions, other than to note they were in Utah. In the clips, wind passes the camera microphones, voices in the background countdown the detonation, the explosions sound real, rocks can be heard tumbling, and finally, shocked laughter from the people recording the video.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources and Division of Parks and Recreation immediately released a tersely worded statement promising to verify the authenticity of the videos, while reminding that it’s a serious crime to deface public lands.

“The destruction of natural rock formations on public land is a crime and will be prosecuted. Formations like hoodoos and arches take tens of thousands of years to form and can be destroyed in seconds when people act carelessly and irresponsibly. Please protect Utah’s public lands. Report abusive behavior like vandalism and enjoy the outdoor responsibly.”

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Then, just two days later, experts who viewed the videos smelled something fishy. As did people intimately familiar with Utah’s topography and geology.

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“The actual arch itself is a feature I don’t recognize in Utah,” said Jeffery Moore, a professor of geology at the University of Utah.

Geologists interviewed by UTDNR also couldn’t identify the location of the arch or the hoodoos.

After consulting with experts. UTDNR concluded the videos were faked. But experts were stunned at how real they appeared. The movement of dust swirling in the wind, the breaking up of boulders into smaller chunks, the sounds, the look—the videos are nearly perfect.

But why somebody would go through the effort to make these videos, which clearly took serious expertise in computer modeling, is a total mystery. Many people who viewed the videos were fooled and enraged at the destruction. No credit was given for the makers of the videos. No motive was announced. An art project? A film school project? A warning? Nobody yet knows.

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