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Getting the shaft

Essay by Martha & Ed Quillen

The golden obelisk – December 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

THIS IS THE SEASON of peace on earth, but it doesn’t appear that detente, perestroika, or nuclear test ban treaties are going to establish that peace any time soon.

An outfit in Crestone, however, has a new idea for establishing world peace once and for all. They plan to bring heaven to earth with a towering obelisk.

One of our spies in Crestone reports that, with the great pink-granite pyramid in apparent hibernation among the enlightened, some vortex attention has been diverted to a proposed obelisk.

Called “Heaven’s Stepping Stones” and promoted by the A.R.<T. Foundation ( , the artwork is supposed to rise in the Bering Strait on the International Date Line between Big Diomede Island (Russia) and Little Diomede Island (United States).

There, a spire will rise 157.48 feet (144 meters) and be topped by a “golden discus, 1 meter in diameter” and “fashioned in 1000 solid gold petals,” according to conceptual artist Hada (née Donald Edwin Potts), the founder and president of the A.R.<T.

As Hada envisions it, “It is vital that the golden discus receive the prayers of as many of our human family as possible, for it is the infusion of the highest aspirations of humanity into this single sacred object that will create a thrill in the cosmos and irresistibly invite Heaven to Earth.” The finished monument will “carry our collective prayers for peace heavenward,” and act as a “unifier of the human race.”

Elsewhere in the promotional material, we learn that the International Date Line site is significant because it will free us from the constraints of that pernicious human invention, time.

To make this dream reality, the foundation merely wants “contributions of $10,000 each accepted from or in behalf of 1,000 women,” and “contributions of $1,000 (or two ounces of gold) from an unlimited number of men.” But the foundation “appreciates the participation of every individual, no matter how small the contribution, as pledges or donations of time and financial resources.”


ALL RIGHT. According to the plan, a foundation out of Crestone wants to erect a piece of art that will symbolize world peace — and thereby bring about an end to “the environmental disregard, the deforestation, the poisoning of soils, the pollution of our waters,” and all the other problems the promoters conclude are now threatening Mother Earth — because prayers directed toward that piece of art will actually unite heaven and earth.

But we’ve got to admit we’ve got some problems with that concept.

First, is it really a good idea to unite heaven and earth? After all, you’ve got to wonder if heaven will still be heaven once earth gets mixed up in it.

Second, don’t prayers presumably proceed heavenward with or without a spire?

Third, if an object is needed to collect our prayers, why not something natural like Mount Everest? Or if it has to be man-made, why not something already existing like Mir.

Since Mir already represents peaceful unity, and orbits outside our time zones, we could get all this praying started a lot sooner. (And besides, Mir could use our prayers.)

Then there’s the matter of the gold. If Heaven’s Stepping Stones is a symbolic way to improve relationships with “our mother, the Earth,” then gold is not the symbol we’d choose.

Gold comes from ripped-out river beds (thus the dredge spoils around Fairplay), eviscerated mountains (try Battle Mountain above Victor) or, these days, cyanide leaching that can be more than hard on aquatic life (note Summitville at the head of the lifeless Alamosa River).

In other words, gold mining, while often necessary, isn’t what comes to mind when one considers “the highest yearnings of a beleaguered humanity.” (And as we recall, not so long ago, many Crestonites were upset when they discovered a core-drilling rig, searching for gold along the west Sangre fault.)

Then there’s a problem with the gold itself. Hada’s plans mention artwork for the disk, so no dimension except its diameter, but we figure that it will be formed like a coin — about 1/10th as thick as its diameter, or four inches thick. At 39.37″ in diameter and 4″ in thickness, the “discus” would contain 4,867 cubic inches of gold, which works out to 49,683 troy ounces, or about $16 million at the current market price of $322.45 per troy ounce.

That’s a lot of money, but suppose they raised the money for the pure gold “discus” anyway? Then what?

Fabricating a gold piece 39.37″ in diameter, and 4″ thick wouldn’t be that difficult, but it probably wouldn’t stay in shape. Gold is quite soft, softer even than solder, and unless the coin lay flat atop a truncated obelisk, it would soon droop and sag. That’s why gold coins and jewelry are almost always alloyed with some more rigid material, like bronze.

Then, assuming that there’s some way to hold this pure 24-carat masterpiece in place, there’s the matter of producing the gold to form it.

Modern gold mining, like that in Nevada, works with vast amounts of very low-grade ore — 0.02 troy ounces per short ton is typical. That is, to get one ounce of gold, they have to mine 50 tons, or 100,000 pounds, of ore. The rule of thumb is a ton of overburden for every ton of ore, so that’s 100 tons of rock to rip from Mother Earth for every ounce of pure, transcendent gold.

Producing 49,693 troy ounces of gold means about 5 million tons of rock, or 2.27 million cubic yards in the ground. After being broken up, the rock takes up about 30% more volume, so we’ve got a pile of rock filling nearly 3 million cubic yards — almost as much as Hoover Dam’s 3.5 million cubic yards.

That seems like an awful lot of environmental depredation for a project that’s supposed to mitigate the horrors we’ve wreaked upon Mother Earth. But looking at the bright side, if we just heap it, the tailings pile will repose at an angle of 33° to the horizon. Make the base square, and we get a pyramid 293 feet high whose base is 452 feet on each side and covers 4.7 acres.

This colossus wouldn’t be as tall as the Pink Pyramid of Arcturus once proposed for the Crestone vortex — that was supposed to reach 396 feet. But the gold-mining residue could still make a pretty impressive pyramid. And it could well be produced locally.

Geologists tell us that the ground around Crestone and the Baca, once the site of small-scale gold mining in the 1880s, probably holds enough gold so that the big shovels and Euclid trucks could go to work right now mining at the foot of the Sangres. Thus, Hada could get his discus and the Arcturians could get their templar pyramid (albeit not a pink granite pyramid, but perhaps some concessions could be made in the interest of univeral eternal peace and harmony).

A few years ago, a core-drilling rig appeared on the Baca, looking for gold, and inspiring protests. But if there is widespread support for Hada’s discus, the rig should be welcomed next time around. After all, if it’s okay to rip up big chunks of Nevada or Brazil for a noble purpose, and run the risk of a Summitville toxic spill somewhere else, it should be even nobler to rip up one’s own back yard.

So we do see some good things about this golden discus.

But then there’s the final problem. What will happen once it’s built?

The location in international waters is supposed to free the obelisk and its disk from the curse of ownership. But how long will $16 million in gold just sit there, unprotected, “unowned,” in the open sea?

Somebody would undoubtedly get the gold quickly, and the rest of humanity would be left with the shaft.

So, if you’ve got $1,000 or two ounces of gold burning a hole in your pocket, you can send it to Crestone, as Hada asks. Or alternately, we’ll give you a lifetime (yours or the magazine’s) subscription in exchange for your contribution to the betterment of humanity.

–Martha and Ed Quillen