Only in your State: Thunder Mountain
January – February 2019
Nevada has many treasures, but only some earn the title of truly unique.
The word unique gets thrown around a lot, and its true meaning is often muddled. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “being the only one” and “being without a like or equal.” In this section, we highlight Nevada treasures that are not only special, but are truly unique and can be found nowhere else in the world; treasures that can be found only in your state.
Thunder Mountain Monument, located just off Interstate 80 in Imlay, is truly unique. The structure now exists as a brief head-turner to the tens of thousands of cars that pass it each day, but the few who stop to investigate learn the story of this spiritual place. The monument is the creation of WWII veteran and artist Frank Van Zant, who in 1969 started to build upon his arrival to Imlay. Van Zant was a self-identified Creek Indian, who built Thunder Mountain as both a shelter from a potential apocalypse, as well as a spiritual haven and hostel during the hippie era. Van Zant would eventually take on the American Indian name Rolling Mountain Thunder after experiencing an epiphany.
During the next several decades, Rolling Mountain Thunder built the bizarre and beautiful monument. He constructed many stone and concrete buildings, along with more than 200 concrete sculptures. The sculptures mainly depict American Indian figures, and portray the injustices they experienced. Scattered among the various buildings and sculptures is a plethora of random objects, though their placement is not random. Each object seems to have its place, whether it is a car windshield concreted into a wall to be used as a window, or a plastic doll head stapled to a tree. Old cars are covered in concrete and rocks, as is a rusty typewriter. The largest structure is covered in colorful paint and a protruding “handle-like” half circle at the highest point. When asked why the white loop adorns the top, Rolling Mountain Thunder replied, “In the last days, the Great Spirit’s going to swoop down and grab this place by the handle.”
Rolling Mountain Thunder lived at the monument until he took his own life in 1989. After his passing, the site sat idle and became the victim of vandalism until it was declared a Nevada State Historic Site in 1992. The monument is open to the public for self-guided tours during daylight hours, and a restoration project spearheaded by Van Zant’s children is underway to restore the site.