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One Tin Soldier
A road trip across Nevada is a lonely experience. If you are simply trying to get from point A to point B, take an airplane. The adventurous will find a certain beauty in vast valleys and spectacular mountain ranges that continue in an endless repetition, begging for exploration. No sign of civilization, no services, miles and miles of nothing, not even a service station. Traveling along interstate 80, when you are just about to fall asleep, something will catch your eye. You will do a double take and the curious will take the next exit. Nestled along the highway are several unidentified, odd looking structures that at first sight could be part of an abandoned theme park of some sort.
You are in Imlay, Nevada, a small mining community with no facilities. After taking a frontage road off the highway, a sign greets you, Thunder Mountain Indian Monument, Historical Site, State of Nevada, Preservation Project. While curious, a thought goes through your head, I remember all the tourist rip offs while taking family vacations through South Dakota or Nebraska and even Arizona... how much ? Free, yes its free, of course there is a donation box but no caretaker, it's the honor system.
Born Frank Van Zant, this artist was born in Oklahoma and was at least in part a Creek Indian. He served in World War 2 and suffered extensive burns in a tank battle. He held a variety of odd jobs after the war years and ended up in Nevada according to some while on his own road trip. His car broke down at this location and a local made him an offer on some real estate that he could not resist. Having not much for resources he began gathering other peoples castaways and used it for building materials. As time went by he started to express himself through his building. As you hike the grounds you will see he went through different periods. One area shows his being a staunch patriot offering honor to all who served in the armed forces and specifically naming commanding officers and pals. He has a monument to the U.S. Forest Service. As you further explore several anti American phrases start to appear and it becomes clear that he was upset that government was so involved with our lives. He then seems to revert back to his Indian roots and rants about how the white man took this land by force away from the original inhabitants. At this point I observed a panel where the phrase, One Tin Soldier Rode Away, is written. I recognize this phrase from a song sung by Joan Baez about mans greed and the need for peace. In 1969 Frank Van Zant legally changed his name to Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder. His work spanned from 1967 until he succumbed to his inner demons by committing suicide at this site after stating, his life's work was finished in 1989.
Now inhabited only by the spring Mormon cricket infestation, the place is slowly falling apart. Several of the out buildings have burned and vandalism has been rampant. In 1992 this site was put on Nevada's registry of historic sites and while there is no funding, there is a volunteer group led by the son of Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder, to rebuild and preserve the site.
The hike can be done as a loop and be sure to take in the entire acreage as there are over 200 sculptures spread out on the property. There is no one to interpret the site but take it all in, take lots of photos, and like I did, you can research it more later. There are pick-nick tables but no facilities or water.
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