Mysterious Monolith

This Nov. 18, 2020, photo provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety shows Utah state workers walking near a metal monolith in the ground in a remote area of red rock in Utah. The smooth, tall structure was found during a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, officials said on Nov. 23.


Mysterious shiny monolith found in otherworldly desert

SALT LAKE CITY — Deep in the Mars-like landscape of Utah's red-rock desert lies a mystery: A gleaming metal monolith in one of the most remote parts of the state.

The smooth, tall structure was found during a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah, officials said Nov. 23.

A crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and Division of Wildlife Resources spotted the gleaming object from the air Nov. 18 and landed to check it out during a break from their work.

They found the three-sided stainless-steel object is about as tall as two men put together. But they discovered no clues about who might have driven it into the ground among the undulating red rocks or why.

"This thing is not from another world," said Lt. Nick Street of the Utah Highway Patrol, part of the Department of Public Safety.

Still, it's clear that it took some planning and work to construct the 10- to 12-foot monolith and embed it in the rock.

The exact location is so remote that officials are not revealing it publicly, worried that people might get lost or stranded trying to find it and need to be rescued.

The monolith evokes the one that appears in the Stanley Kubrick movie "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Because it's on federal public land, it's illegal to place art objects without authorization.

Bureau of Land Management officials are investigating how long it's been there, who might have created it and whether to remove it.

Mormon president urges gratitude to deal with trying 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called on members Nov. 20 to flood social media over Thanksgiving week with messages of gratitude in what he hopes will serve as a healing tool as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, racism and a lack of civility.

Russell M. Nelson, a 96-year-old former heart surgeon, said in a recorded speech posted online that the COVID-19 pandemic is a great concern to him as "a man of science and faith" but not his only worry.

"I view the current pandemic as only one of many ills that plague our world, including hate, civil unrest, racism, violence, dishonesty and lack of civility," Nelson said.

He urged the Utah-based faith's 16.5 million members around the globe to appreciate what they have, rather than dwelling on the negative. He pointed to his own ability to overcome pain from his first wife's death 16 years ago and the passing of two of his daughters to cancer. He told members to post on social media about what they are grateful for each of the next seven days, while also doing daily prayers.

The pandemic has altered how the faith worships — limiting Sunday worship services and sacred ordinances at temples and forcing twice-annual church conferences to be held virtually without people in attendance.

Nelson is considered a prophet who receives guidance from God by members of the faith, widely known as the Mormon church.


State wary of oil downturn amid budget cuts

SANTA FE — State legislators kept a wary eye on Nov. 17 on trends in oil prices and production as the number of active drilling rigs and new wells has plummeted from pre-pandemic levels, threatening a crucial source of state income amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A report from the budget and accountability office of the Legislature found that drilling for new petroleum wells in New Mexico's share of the Permian Basin declined to 134 wells in September, down from 589 wells in September 2019.

Reduced oilfield activity has rippled through the New Mexico economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the oil and mining sector lost 7,400 jobs since February.

New Mexico typically relies on income from the oil and natural gas sectors through a variety of taxes, royalties and lease purchases for more than one-quarter of its annual general fund budget.

Oil market analyst Bernadette Johnson of Enverus told a legislative committee she expects natural gas prices to increase in 2021 but said demand and prices for oil will take longer to recover.

Democratic State Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, who ends a 32-year legislative career in December, urged his successors and the governor to find new revenue sources for the state that are more reliable than oil.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has directed state agencies to reduce spending requests by up to 5% for the budget year that begins in July 2021 to conserve resources.


More than 240,000 apply for tribal virus relief funding

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — About three-quarters of Navajos enrolled with the tribe have applied for financial assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The deadline to file an application is Nov. 30. Already, more than 240,000 have been submitted online or on paper, the Navajo Nation Office of the Controller said.

The tribe has about 327,000 members, making it one of the largest of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. It has about $90 million available for hardship assistance that comes from the Navajo Nation's share of a federal coronavirus relief package.

The average payment would be $454 for adults and $151 for minors, according to the controller's website. But the decision is expected to be made based on need, up to $1,500 for adults and $500 for children.

More money could be added to the fund next month if other projects fall through. Tribes nationwide have until Dec. 30 to spend money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Through Nov. 24, the Navajo Nation reported 15,236 COVID-19 cases and 631 deaths.


Bankers survey projects drop in holiday retail sales

OMAHA, Neb. — Rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states are expected to see a not-as-jolly holiday retail season this year, according to a new monthly survey of bankers in the region.

More than half of bankers surveyed this month for the Rural Mainstreet Survey projected 2020 holiday retail sales to be down from 2019 as the coronavirus pandemic worsens across the country. The survey suggests those sales to be down 3.1% from last year.

The survey's overall index fell to 46.8 in November from October's 53.2 — the first time since April that the index has fallen. It still remains well ahead of the 35.5 reading in March, when the index bottomed out as the outbreak began.

Any score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy, while a score above 50 suggests a growing economy.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said recent improvements in agriculture commodity prices, as well as federal farm support and the Federal Reserve's record low interest, have underpinned the region's economy.

“Still, only 6.5% of bankers reported economic improvements from October, while 12.9% detailed economic pullbacks for the month," Goss said.

Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

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