Rolling Mountain Thunder
Photograph by Richard Menzies
Frank Van Zant wanted to make a statement that
would last, and few things last as well as concrete
in the desert. So when Van Zant’s 1948 Chevy truck
broke down two hours east of Reno, sometime in
the summer of 1968, he decided to take it as a sign.
He set up camp and started scavenging — metal,
glass, old cars, a typewriter — whatever he could
get. Then he bought sacks of concrete, and without any art background, this retired sheriff and
World War II vet began shaping Thunder Mountain
Monument alongside Interstate 80, a memorial to
the plight of Native Americans.
“No other person has duplicated what he did with
concrete freehand,” says Van Zant’s son, Daniel Van
Zant, who now owns the land and the structure
outside of Imlay, Nev. “Concrete wants to drop. It’s
not easy to get that wet and heavy material to stay
Daniel says his dad built the main monument
building with 2× 4 framing, marine-quality plywood,
and concrete that he smeared on with his bare
hands. “I never saw him use tools with the concrete.
His hands were always bloody and calloused, and
sometimes he had to wait for them to heal up
before he could go on.”
Today, the structure sits open and unattended,
a roadside attraction that evokes a different time.
Back in the day, young hippies on the road west
would stop and accept shelter in a hostel building
on the site, helping out and learning from the
sculptor who by then had taken the name Chief
Rolling Mountain Thunder.
But the hostel eventually burned down, the 60s
became the 70s and then the 80s, and Van Zant
ended his days alone at the monument — just him
and the 200 statues of Indians he had fashioned
with wet concrete and his bare hands.
>> Thunder Mountain: thundermountainmonument.com