Chief Rolling Thunder started life as Frank Van Zandt, a youth pastor, forest ranger and law enforcement professional, who started building his monument to the Native American spirit in 1968. The core of what seems to me to be a cross between The Garden of Eden, Nittwit Ridge and the Coral Castle began with a small trailer, around which Thunder (as he preferred to be called) added rocks and concrete, bottles and statuary. Its central tower with the eagle on top rises up some five or six stories above the ground-- the whole thing his son Dan estimates covering perhaps 4000 square feet.
Dan says that he'd go away for a couple of months during his dad's prime, and return to find whole new sections of the house, which also served as a kind of museum. Not so much artifacts displayed within, but by the structure itself, which he said was guided by "the great spirit." Thunder mostly worked alone, or with the assistance of hippie types who would stop by to see what the heck was going on. And Dan remembers, as much as his father liked to tell stories, he was always on the move, finding rocks and new pieces to add to his "monument."
Neither Van Zandt could be considered much of a "permit" type, so even though the property's marked as a State Historic Site, that's about the extent of governmental help. Dan lives in California, and does what he can to shore up the most "at risk" parts of this amazing construction, but it's a daunting task. The many "no trespassing" signs are designed to keep people from crawling around it, while still making it possible to view.
Dan recalls that given the choice his dad would probably pick concrete over groceries, and ironically, that's the business he's in now. But he says he still occasionally hears from some of those aging flower children that often populated the place, and from Native Americans who appreciate the passion that Thunder put into his mountain. We do too. Big time.
And we appreciate that our van is now heading back towards home base, eerily on schedule. We've been blessed with only one slight rain delay, and considering what's been rattling Reno lately, no earthquakes. Now we head back, and see if any of it actually was recorded...
Music In the Van--REM "Accelerate", Bob Dylan "Modern Times", Sufjain Stevens Come On Feel the Illinois"