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Mysterious desert artwork evolved over 6 years — PHOTOS

Updated February 2, 2023 - 3:54 pm

A mysterious artwork on a plateau overlooking Las Vegas appears to have started emerging in 2017, according to historical satellite photos from Google Earth Pro.

The work of land art, which depicts a large triangle with a face on one corner and a yin and yang symbol at the other, was recently spotted by Dave Golan, 60, a Las Vegas doctor who lives nearby and walks his dogs up to the plateau, which is just west of South Fort Apache Road and West Cactus Avenue, where the Mountain’s Edge neighborhood ends and the desert begins.

And the piece apparently keeps evolving. When Review-Journal photographer Bizuayehu Tesfaye shot the image below with his drone on Jan. 19, the face was clearly smiling:

Rocks arranged by an unknown person in the shape of a large triangle with a yin yang at one poi ...
Rocks arranged by an unknown person in the shape of a large triangle with a yin yang at one point and a face at the other are seen, on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, in Las Vegas. Dr. Dave Golan discovered a man-made design on the side of a mountain near where he lives in the Mountain's Edge neighborhood in southwest Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye

That happy face is a contrast to the most recent available satellite image on Google Maps, which is dated 2023 and shows a frown on the face. Even if that satellite image wasn’t actually captured in 2023, satellite imagery from April 2022 (see below) also shows a frown.

This satellite image from Google Maps, which is dated 2023, shows a frown on the face.
This satellite image from Google Maps, which is dated 2023, shows a frown on the face.

After the Review-Journal published a story and photos of the work of art, several readers emailed their theories and tips about the piece.

Anjaneyulu Yarlagadda, 36, of Las Vegas, sent a Twitter direct message to say the face looks like Lord Hanuman, a figure from Hindu mythology, who, according to brittanica.com, was the “the monkey commander of the monkey army. His exploits are narrated in the great Hindu Sanskrit poem the Ramayana (“Rama’s Journey”).”

Pam Lum, 52, a biology professor who lives in Las Vegas, emailed to say the face looks like that of the Monkey King from the popular Chinese children’s novel “The Journey to the West”.

“Hope this helps with finding the artist,” Lum wrote.

The image, which was created when somebody or even a group of people rearranged the rocks on the plateau, is hard to see when you’re standing right in front of it. The rearranged rocks, each of which is pretty heavy and also jagged, blend in with all the many other rocks scattered about the plateau. It hides in plain sight.

Dr. Dave Golan poses for a photo with his dogs on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, where he discovered ...
Dr. Dave Golan poses for a photo with his dogs on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, where he discovered rocks arranged by an unknown person near where he lives in the Mountain's Edge neighborhood in southwest Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye

Golan, a former trauma physician at University Medical Center who now operates clinics in Las Vegas, was looking down at the plateau from a higher ledge on the hill at sunset in early January when he noticed that some of the rocks there appeared to be positioned in an intentional design.

He went home and checked the satellite imagery on Google Maps. And there it was: the face, the symbol and the triangle. The triangle’s sides are each over 50 feet in length.

But who did it? And how long has it been there?

To the question of who created the piece, that’s still unknown.

The query of how long it’s been there, that has become more clear, thanks again to Google and two readers, Brent Ozar, 49, a small-business owner who lives in Henderson, and Richard Kimmell, 62, a commercial property manager who lives in Las Vegas.

Both Ozar and Kimmell emailed the Review-Journal to say that the evolution of the piece from its inception can be seen in historical satellite images that can be viewed on Google Earth Pro, which allows a viewer to see the historical satellite imagery for a given location.

Looking at the satellite images of the plateau, it appears the piece was started in 2017.

We can deduce this by looking at this satellite image from March 2016. There is nothing there:

In March 2016, there is nothing there. (Google Earth Pro)
In March 2016, there is nothing there. (Google Earth Pro)

Then, by May 2017, a circle has emerged:

In May 2017, a circle has appeared. This is the first sign of the artwork. (Google Earth Pro)
In May 2017, a circle has appeared. This is the first sign of the artwork. (Google Earth Pro)

In November 2017, and bear with us because it’s hard to see in this image, there is a circle and to the lower left of that, what appears to be a Star of David:

In this Google Earth Pro satellite image from November 2017, a circle and Star of David are vis ...
In this Google Earth Pro satellite image from November 2017, a circle and Star of David are visible on the plateau. (Google Earth Pro)

Golan said in a text message that the visible progression of the artwork lends itself to more questions than answers.

“It adds to the mystery knowing that the artist didn’t start with a set plan,” Golan said. “What made them decide to scrap the star? Who is the face? Why did they turn frown upside down? I don’t know. What I really want to known is if they have created any others elsewhere in the desert.”

By May 2019, the artwork was looking pretty close to what it looks like now:

The triangle with the face and yin and yang symbol are there in May 2019. (Google Earth Pro)
The triangle with the face and yin and yang symbol are there in May 2019. (Google Earth Pro)

It also looks pretty much the same in February 2020:

The triangle with the face and the yin and yang symbol are visible in this image from February ...
The triangle with the face and the yin and yang symbol are visible in this image from February 2020. (Google Earth Pro)

And April 2022:

This image from April 2022 shows the artwork mostly as it appears today. However, the face is f ...
This image from April 2022 shows the artwork mostly as it appears today. However, the face is frowning, which contrasts with drone images shot by Las Vegas Review-Journal photographer Bizu Tesfaye on Jan. 19, 2023. In those images captured by Tesfaye, the face is smiling. (Google Earth Pro)

Finally, the artwork is laid out on land that is owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management. A spokesperson said that the first time the bureau had heard about the existence of the artwork was when the Review-Journal reached out for comment and to ask if the bureau knew who created the art.

Kirsten Cannon, a spokesperson for BLM’s Southern Nevada District, said that while land art pieces can be an important addition to BLM lands, permits need to be issued when such art is created so that details can be worked out to reduce the possibility of environmental destruction.

“Since you told us about this, we will begin an investigation and determine the next steps,” Cannon said in an email in January.

Cannon said in an email Tuesday that so far there is no update to share publicly with respect to that investigation.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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