Frank Van Zant led a fascinating and complex life and left a unique home in Nevada. Though he had a Dutch name, he said he was 100% Creek Indian, and in his later life went by Chief Rolling Thunder. When asked about his name in an interview he replied “I used to use a different name, but I’ve always been Rolling Thunder.”
After serving in World War II, Van Zant worked in California as a police officer for nearly 20 years. In his middle age, he moved to Nevada with his young wife and set up camp in the desert. In the barren sand, he erected a house, sculptures, and a three-story hostel along with many other out buildings, walls and sculptures. Rolling Thunder built each piece of the park himself, mainly out of found objects and scrap metal. He claimed to be tied to the area by a kind of curse and that every time he tried to leave something terrible would happen.
For a while the property acted as a kind of commune, but one by one people drifted off. Van Zant, his wife, and his seven children lived on the farm until the government intervened and child protective services forced the children and their mother to leave Thunder Mountain, leaving Van Zant alone with his sculptures. Shortly thereafter, struggling with depression and failing health, Van Zant passed away in 1989, bequeathing his life’s work to his son, Dan.
Much of the original work of Van Zant was lost in a series of arson fires in 1983 and many of the roofs were leaking. Dan has since cleaned up the park, with the monetary support of strangers. He still hopes to install benches and an underground irrigation system to help restore the areas natural beauty.
Though visitors can’t enter the one remaining building (a large, two-story home constructed from white-wash concrete sculpture and “white man’s trash”) there is much to see in the remains of the hostel, playground, exterior walls, etc., including a vast array of discarded items that have become part of site.
Information panels written by Van Zant’s son describe life in the hostel and explain the project as an homage to the genocide of the Native Americans.
Know Before You Go
Just off the highway on the East side of I-80 in Imlay, NV, between Winnemucca and Lovelock. Take the Imlay exit and take the small road that follows the highway.