Nevada Nature August 29, 2016
Most People Have No Idea This Unique Park In Nevada Exists
It’s been said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In the case of Thunder Mountain Monument, it’s one man’s legacy. The late Frank Van Zant, also known as Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder, created his unique roadside park of exotic folk art and architectural oddities out of bottles, concrete, scrap iron, car hoods, dolls’ heads, typewriters, gas pumps and other found materials over a period of three decades.
The five-acre park on Star Peak Road, off Highway I-80 in Imlay, is now owned and cared for by Van Zant’s son, Daniel.
Thunder Mountain Park has been described as a museum, a monument to Native Americans and a retreat for pilgrims.
Van Zant, who was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma self-identified as a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a Native American tribe. A World War II veteran and free thinker, he decided to start building his monument in 1969.
It started as a one-room travel trailer and grew to include hallways, stairways and upstairs bedrooms with glass bottle walls and slate ceilings.
There are a few different stories about the park's origin. One is that Van Zant had a dreamlike epiphany. Others have said he was trying to build a place where he could escape from the apocalypse. The most probable story is that his 1946 Chevy pickup truck broke down on the spot near the onetime railroad station of Imlay, and he never left.
The bottle walls were inspired by a bottle house out in the desert near Death Valley, most likely those in the ghost town of Rhyolite.
“He said he just fell in love with it," says his Daniel Van Zant on the
. "He said that he wanted to do that someday.”
Van Zant made ornamental statuary from concrete and chicken wire.
The concrete sculptures depict Native Americans and their protective spirits, massacres, and injustices against them.
His windows were made from automobile windshields.
Statues and arches soaring up to 50 feet into the sky sit atop the roof.
Even cars became part of the monument.
Thunder Mountain began to fall into disrepair during the 1970s and the site was partially destroyed by fire in 1983. Also in 1983, Van Zant was named the Artist of the Year in Nevada.
After his wife left him and took custody of three children, however, Van Zant found himself alone and depressed. In 1989, he shot himself, leaving Thunder Mountain deserted.
In 1992, Thunder Mountain Monument was named a Nevada State Historic Site.
Daniel Van Zant inherited the property from his father and though he lives in California, he is heavily involved in its upkeep and preservation.
The unique roadside park remains open to those passing by.
Some of the creations were fenced off in order to protect them, but visitors are encouraged to take their time and look around. There is a gazebo with a guest book, history of the site, and a donation box. All donations go towards the historical site's upkeep. A $2 donation is recommended per group.
This unique roadside park is worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.