Friday, March 6, 2009

Thunder Mountain Battle Monument

Both Eberle & I have traveled Interstate 80 West a fair number of times, especially from Winnemucca on to San Francisco or at least to the turn off for U.S. 95 South to Hawthorne, NV (our favorite route to SoCal). In the course of those trips we’d always been struck by a singular & compelling edifice off to the left as you’re heading west near Imlay, NV. Last March, Eberle & I made two trips to California—wonderful getaways to lands redolent with blossoms & sunshine while Indian Valley was still mired in a somber March gray. The second of the two trips was to SoCal, where we performed our score for Nell Shipman’s Grub Stake at Claremont-McKenna College (many thanks to our dear pal Audrey, & also to Jim Morrison of Claremont-McKenna film department & the most redoubtable Tom Trusky of the Idaho Film Collection). The first trip was more complicated, & not altogether a “pleasure” trip, tho we did have some great times in Occidental, CA visiting Dani Leone, & later in Baghdad by the Bay with Chris Leone & Earl Butter & Kim.

But the main point of this story is that as we headed west early last March, we decided we were going to stop at this place on the way back; & so, a week later as we were headed back to Idaho, we took the Imlay exit on I-80 East, & drove up a small secondary road to Thunder Mountain Battle Monument.

Thunder Mountain was the home & the creation of Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder (AKA Frank Van Zant) a Native American man who left Oklahoma to settle in the high Nevada desert. The home is a masterpiece of “found art” & concrete sculpture; in terms of the former, there are windows made of car windshields & glass bottles, & fences made of junk automobiles; in terms of the latter, there are any number of images formed in concrete—these are statues of Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder’s family, as well as Native Americans from history (for instance, a statue of Sarah Winnemucca appears there) & legend or mythology. Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder was a remarkable man, who lived a difficult & ultimately tragic life, but was able to create this site of strange beauty in the midst of a forbidding desert landscape. Walking around the monument (which is currently being restored by the state of Nevada) you do get the sense of being in a consecrated space, a space that has been made “other” by the passion of a human being’s creativity & spirituality—by his love & his faith, his despair & his rage. It's probably the most powerful monument against injustice I’ve ever seen.

If you ever happen to be on I-80 west of Winnemucca, I’d strongly recommend that you set aside an hour or so to visit the Thunder Mountain Battle Monument (there’s no admission, tho there is a donation box). If that’s not feasible, I’d recommend the documentary Visions of Paradise. This film tells the story of five US folk artists, including Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder, & is available thru Light-Saraf Films (I expect to post more about this dvd in the future). The segment on Thunder Mountain includes footage shot inside the house, which currently is closed to the public during restoration efforts.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow—I believe it tells the story of Thunder Mountain better than any words I might add. The pictures were taken on our two trips thru Nevada in March of 2008; the background music is a solo piano piece by Eberle called “Dream Train.” She originally wrote it for our soundtrack to Rootabaga Stories.


  1. Wow -- this is amazing. Definitely worth a road trip. Thanks for posting about it!

  2. My kind of place! The Art Yard in Centralia, WA is reminiscent of this, only on a smaller scale.

  3. Thanks T & K: Yes, it's really worth seeing. The link to "Art Yard" piqued my interest for sure-- thanks for including that.

  4. Fascinating. The urge to create and leave your mark can be so defining.

  5. Hi Meri: Yes, that seems true in general & also specifically in this case. Glad you liked it.

  6. What an interesting place, John. You never know where passion and creativity may take someone. I love your one picture with the "collection" of tumbleweeds.

  7. Hi Linda:

    Thanks-- yes, I know the picture you mean; I used it on a post here once last year.


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