Hunkering Down with Rolling Mountain Thunder: Nevada's Thunder Mountain Monument

As part of my great Lime Oregon Eclipse adventure, I found myself driving the flat stretch of I80 between Lovelock & Winnmuecca in the western Nevada desert. At first I thought sleep deprivation was causing me to see strange shapes just off the highway, but upon closer inspection (& a quick google search at the next gas station) I learned this was no weird vision brought on by exhaustion. What I'd seen towering in the desert sun was actually the Thunder Mountain Monument.

The handle on the top of the main building was designed so Great Spirit could take the entire house away upon Van Zant's death.

Doubling back to catch a close up glimpse of this radically strange structure was well worth the scary Google maps detour (somehow we were initially  led along a literal desert wash, which my little Scion didn't handle particularly well), & the $2 donation suggested for entry.



The story of Thunder Mountain is almost as strange as the structure itself. Frank Van Zant began construction on his masterpiece in 1969, shortly after relocating to Imlay, Nevada with his wife & children. He claimed to have been given a vision by Native American spirits, & began construction in homage to this heritage. Van Zant was a WWII veteran, & a self-identified member of the Creek nation, who took the name Rolling Mountain Thunder before beginning the building. The site's website gives some background into Van Zant's ever-changing impetus for beginning construction:
"Frank himself offered a variety of explanations, depending upon who was asking the questions & how much he felt like answering them. In one version, he said he had a dream one night that a 'great big eagle' swooped down from the sky & told him 'this is where I should build his nest.'"
A side building constructed using glass bottles.

The monument initially served two purposes: the first as a shelter for the apocalypse Van Zant believed to be imminent, & secondly as a spiritual destination for hippies of the 70's. Originally comprising of seven buildings, including a three story hostel for spiritual travelers, the monument was the victim of arson in 1983 which left much of the property destroyed. Van Zant was named Nevada's Artist of the Year in 1989 but committed suicide that same year.  After years of neglect the site was named a Nevada State Historic Site in 1992. It is now managed by Van Zant's adult children.

Make sure to wear good shoes, there are debris everywhere on the grounds.

The monument is a stunning example of outsider art architecture & sculpture. Van Zant utlized found objects, trash, cement, scrap metal, & a plethora of other materials to build the structures of Thunder Mountain, where he lived until his death.

Some possible construction materials.


Native American figures dot the landscape.

There's so much more to Thunder Mountain than can fit in one blog post! Make the trek to see this fascinating wonder for yourself. Literally on the shoulder of I80, you can't miss it!

I regularly accidentally take photos before I'm ready with my "picture" face!

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