GIF: Tobias Muir

Two mysterious videos recently appeared online that allegedly show protected rock formations in the Utah desert being destroyed with explosives. The videos raise more questions than they answer, but if they’re fake, they’re very well done.

In one clip, we see a natural arch in a relatively high-res shot and a person’s head briefly pokes into the frame from behind the camera. Seconds later, explosives go off and the enormous arch crumbles to the ground. In the other clip, we see hoodoo formations and hear a man count down from five. Then the ancient natural bodies, carved by the elements over thousands of years, are blown apart. The video’s title’s claim the footage was taken in Utah.

Utah’s KUTV points to a LiveLeak user with the handle desdu23419 as the possible source. A Google image search returned no matches for the arch and a handful of reposts of the hoodoo video. A YouTube user named “tobias muir” has also posted the videos with cryptic captions like:

Just wanted to fill you guys in with some more info. This is one of three videos which they received, along with a letter containing sensitive information which I don’t have access to myself. At this point they don’t believe that this video was significantly digitally manipulated in or made with CGI. Will post more once I’ve been given the green light.

Gizmodo contacted the Utah Department of Natural Resources to ask if they had any information about the videos and a spokesperson sent us the following statement:

The Utah Department of Natural Resources and Division of Parks and Recreation learned of these videos yesterday. We are currently working to determine the authenticity of both and reaching out to other state and federal agencies to identify the exact locations.

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 outdoors responsibly.

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It’s entirely possible we’re just looking at someone’s visual effects demonstration that they want to go viral or real explosions that occurred somewhere other than Utah. The hoodoo video is a bit grainy and conveniently shakes at the moment of the explosion. The arch video, however, is much more clear and convincing. The Salt Lake Tribune spoke with a special effects expert, Clark Schaffer, about the authenticity of the videos, and he believed its likely that the clips are fabricated but admitted, “if it’s fake, it’s incredibly done.” The Tribune also spoke with an experienced hiker from the region, and he made a persuasive case that both videos feature the same composited background scenery.

If someone really is going around blowing up natural history for some clicks, let’s hope they’re tracked down and stopped. If not, we’ll just sit back and admire the mystery uploader’s video compositing skills.

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[KUTV, Salt Lake Tribune]