The Story of Thunder Mountain Monument

An odd and affecting monument stands off a Nevada highway as a testament to one man’s passions

The road that connects the monument to Chief Rolling Thunder Mountain’s hidden retreat above the valley floor. (Kristin Ohlson)

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Years ago, Dan asked his father why he built the white loops and arches on top of the monument. “In the last days, the Great Spirit’s going to swoop down and grab this place by the handle,” Thunder replied.

But vandals and the desert might get it first. Since his father’s death, Dan’s been steadily fighting both of them. Bored local teenagers break the embedded bottles and the monument windows, which are hard to replace because they’re made from old windshields. Sculptures disappear. The fences keep out the cows—this is open range country—but other animals gnaw and burrow their way in. Winter storms tear at some of the monument’s fragile architectural flourishes. Dan tries to come once a month to work on the place and has a local man look in on it several days a week, but presevation is a tough job. He tried to give it to the state of Nevada, but officials reluctantly declined, saying they didn’t have the resources.

For now, Thunder Mountain still stands. The sculptures are as fierce as ever, the messages fainter but not subdued. When the trees on the site are bare, you can see the monument’s sinewy topknot from far away. It’s easy to imagine the Great Spirit reaching down to snatch it away. That’s the kind of thought you have in the middle of nowhere.


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