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Thunder Mountain Monument Nevada


Photos Mike Sinnwell September 2005


Thunder Mountain Monument is a series of art sculptures and architectural forms which were assembled by Frank Van Zant starting in 1969. It is located on a shoulder of I-80 near Imlay, Nevada .  Frank Van Zant had served with the 7th Armoured Division, fighting in several campaigns, and been badly burned in a tank battle outside of Leipzig, Germany. A self-identified Creek Indian, he took the Native American name Rolling Mountain Thunder after experiencing an epiphany, and took on the twin but related tasks of both building shelters from the presumed coming apocalypse, and making a de facto spiritual haven for spiritual seekers of the hippie era.


The site contains three stone and cement buildings and over 200 cement sculptures variously depicting Native Americans and their protective spirits, massacres, and purported injustices. Thunder Mountain Monument (or Park) is replete with found objects (such as, but not limited to, car hoods, dolls' heads, typewriters, and gas pumps), many of which are incorporated into the buildings themselves; one framework forms a large handle so the Great Spirit could take the building away after Thunder's death.

He was long subjected to harassment by the local townspeople, and his site was partially destroyed by arson in 1983, the same year he was named Nevada's Artist of the Year; a heavy cigarette smoker, Rolling Mountain Thunder committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in 1989. His uniquely wrought environment was neglected and subject to vandalism until it was declared a Nevada State Historic Site in the 1990s; it is now under the care of his grown children under the aegis of a State of Nevada Historic Site Restoration Project, and is partially open to the public for self-guided tours.