We often come across quirky locations, like Thunder Mountain Monument through magical little accidents. And we love stopping at roadside attractions that are simply passed by, or unknown to most travelers. Those tucked away treasures only known to “locals” and often rarely visited even by them are the fuel for our road trips. This recent trip to a explore a previously unvisited Nelson Hot Spring is the perfect example of enjoying the journey, not the destination.
Half the fun of travel is the aesthetics of lostness. — Ray Bradbury
Thunder Mountain Monument Facts
130 Miles NE of Reno I-80, Exit 145 Paved roads with a dirt/gravel road parking lot.
Thunder Mountain Monument is one of those interesting accidental finds.
We set off on a desert hot spring adventure with our 3-year old, my step-daughter Britni, and her family. It was a long drive through the eastern Nevada desert according to Google. Little did we know there was a much more direct route.
Troys Note: Since Nelson Hot Springs is now defunct I will spare the gory details of our hour and a half trek but a simple search on Google Maps for Nelson Hot Springs from Reno sends you through the backcountry, instead of directly towards Winnemucca and exiting at Imlay. From there you head down some dirt roads to a beautiful hidden valley where the Nelson Not-So-Hot Springs are located.
Hot Springs information can be dicey, be prepared to enjoy the journey!
At times it seemed like we were lost until we finally found our destination, the actually quite beautiful Nelson Hot Springs in Pershing County. The desert landscape was beautiful, but the hot springs were a bust. The crumbling pipes had collapsed and were no longer able to siphon the hot spring water to the giant blue plastic soaking pool. Warm little pools of water and stagnant puddles scattered the area.
For a short time we explored what looked to be an old hot springs resort. Old concrete footings and several concrete pools with steps and the accompanying pipe works littered the area We headed back towards Reno, but everyone was starving.
We needed a lunch break after our seemingly endless drive into the desert and were eager to find a spot to picnic. Troy remembered a roadside attraction on the way back to Reno he wanted to show us. So it was on to Thunder Mountain in Imlay, Nevada.
It’s a little bit of land just off I-80 that is now a State of Nevada Historical Site. It was built over a 20 year period starting in 1968 by Frank Van Zant or “Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder”. He built odd structures of all sizes, many sculptures, and pieces of folk-art.. all built from trash, discarded items and concrete. Van Zant incorporated glass bottles, rusted metal, old cars and car parts, toys, statues, and household objects into this amazing piece of art in the desert.
We explored the area and took lots of pictures of this strange site. The kids had a great time playing and exploring the area.
We set up an impromptu picnic area, grilled and ate lunch just outside the gate in their small parking lot.
This was one of those treasures you hope to find when you’re lost or your original destination doesn’t go as planned. If you have a chance stop in and take a gander. The drive to Nelson Hot Springs isn’t too shabby either even though the springs are a bust.
Troys Note: This place reminds me of those strange roadside attractions you would find on the roads across America in the bygone era of Route 66 and the like. As a child and even to this day these odd havens of obscurity remind of lost magical, mysterious places that cry to be explored.