Mysterious antennas keep popping up in Utah’s foothills and no one knows why

Strange antenna rigs discovered in the foothills around Salt Lake City have officials puzzled. Facebook

Public lands officials in Utah have a bonafide mystery on their hands. Electrical rigs consisting of an antenna, solar panel, and locked battery box keep popping up on mountain peaks and ridges in the foothills around Salt Lake City — and they have no idea why.

Officials say they have spotted about a dozen of the devices scattered in the area. One antenna array was even set up at the summit of Mount Wire, which is more than 7,000 feet high, or 2,130 metres.

“These towers have been bolted into different peaks and summits and ridges around the foothills,” said city trails manager Tyler Fonarow in an interview with local KSLTV. “It started with one or two, and now it might be as much as a dozen.”

City workers removing a strange antenna rig discovered in the foothills around Salt Lake City. Facebook

About a year ago, city workers first started noticing the strange set-ups, which may call to mind the similarly enigmatic monoliths that appeared in Utah, and around the world, in 2020.

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Fonarow said that, at the time, they didn’t really take the antennas seriously.

“We didn’t really have the bandwidth to look into it or remove them,” Fonarow told Motherboard.

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In the past few months, many more devices were found, including on property managed by the Forest Service and the University of Utah.

It’s unclear who’s installing them, but whoever they are, they don’t have permits.

“We just don’t leave things on public lands anymore. You have to ask for permission,” Fonarow told KSLTV.

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There were no identifying marks on the antennas, but officials may learn more once they open the locked battery boxes.

“We honestly didn’t even open the box,” Fonarow told Motherboard, noting that the antennas had been bolted into the stone and needed to be removed with special tools. “We just wanted it off the hill.”

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So far, two of the antenna rigs have been removed by city workers, but Fonarow told Motherboard that the winter weather and snowy conditions make finding and removing the devices difficult. A third rig is slated to be removed in the coming weeks.

“It’s not a high priority for us,” he said.

On Jan. 3, Salt Lake City Public Lands asked for help identifying the “unauthorized solar panel towers in the Foothills.”

“If you have information about these towers or who they belong to, please call our office at (801) 972-7800 so we can return them back to their owner. Thanks,” the organization wrote in a Facebook post.

The University of Utah has stated that the devices are not, to their knowledge, connected with any research from the campus community.

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“Since Salt Lake City leaders alerted the University of Utah to the unauthorized solar panel towers in the foothills northeast of the Avenues neighbourhood, University of Utah representatives have been actively coordinating with City Public Lands officials to determine whether any member of our campus community is connected to the towers. As far as we know, the tower located on university property is not owned or operated by the university,” a spokesperson for the university told KSLTV.

One theory that might explain the purpose of the antenna towers is that they’re being used to mine cryptocurrency, Fonarow said.

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Helium is a type of cryptocurrency that relies on a wide network of antennas to provide coverage. The wider someone’s network, the more tokens they can mine.

According to the Motherboard report, Helium miners can use online articles to learn how to create solar-powered rigs and deploy them in rural areas. A Reddit page for Helium miners also shows users bragging about the elevation at which they set up their antennas.

Fonarow said that so far, he has noticed no damage to public lands relating to the antenna towers, and it’s unclear if anyone will ever face charges for the unauthorized equipment.

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“As long as it’s not dangerous, we really don’t care,” he said. “We just want people to stop doing it so we can get back to taking care of our lands. … If someone wanted to put an antenna in the exact same location for scientific purposes, we’d probably allow it.”

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