Rhyolite, Nevada Bottle Building
In 1906, in the old ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada a saloon owner named Tom Kelly, built a house out of bottles because lumber was scarce at the time. Reportedly he used some 50,000 beer, whiskey, soda and medicine bottles to build the structure which still stands today. Mr. Kelley was 76 years old when he built the house and it took him almost six months to complete.
The bottle house was restored and re-roofed by Paramount Pictures in 1925 for a movie setting. Afterwards it was given to the Beatty Improvement Association for maintenance as a historical site.
It was leased to Louis J. Murphy and maintained as a museum by him and a woman named Bessie Stratton Moffat until he died in 1956. Later, Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Thompson also lived in it, maintaining a museum and a relic shop.
Tommy was a musician who played his accordion in the saloons of Rhyolite when it was a boom town. When the Thompsons died, their son, Evan Thompson maintained it for a while. He was the last known person to live in the house; but now resides in Pioneer, Nevada.
Next to the bottle house is a “garden” of sculptures made of broken glass including miniature houses, bottle ropes, and whole bunch more glass junk, er… treasures.
The bottle house isn’t the only quirky thing in Rhyolite. You’ll also see the Goldwell Open Air Museum.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
As you near the old town site of Rhyolite, you will see what is called the Goldwell Open Air Museum. Here, a group of Belgian artists created seven large scale outdoor sculptures in the midst of the Mojave desert, the most impressive of which is a ghostly interpretation of the “Last Supper.” There is also a 25-foot high pink woman made of cincer blocks, a 24-foot high steel prospector accompanied by a penguin, a blossoming tangle of gleaming chrome car parts; and an exquisitely carved winged woman reaching for the sun from high atop a wooden pillar.
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This may be the most delicious attraction in Las Vegas, not to mention one of the most popular.
Located in the Showcase Mall, the mouth-watering exhibit features a multitude of life size M&M’s hawking everything from t-shirts to scores of the popular candy in every color under the rainbow plus silver and gold.
A tour of the entire site is available ending with a 3-D movie featuring Red and Yellow’s trip to Vegas. When Red loses his “M” at the poker table, the two take a journey to the land of the lost to retrieve it. Viewers are rewarded with a surprise treat upon their exit.
The attraction adds its own gaudy sign to the Strip — a 3D 40-foot long M&M’s bag shaking out candy. Three M&M’s characters, 15 to 19 feet tall, entice Strip denizens to come inside. One see-thru wall of a second-floor store is filled from floor to ceiling with . . . M&M’s.
Hours are 9 am-11 pm, Sunday-Thursday and 9 am-12 am Friday-Saturday
Thunder Mountain Monument
Out in the middle of nowhere south of Interstate 80 near Imlay, Nevada, is a huge conglomeration of quirky sculptures made of all manner of collected items including old cars, bottles, railroad ties, machinery, wheels and a bucket load of concrete.
Constructed over two decades beginning in 1967, a man named Frank Van Zant, built the folk art “sculpture” of concrete and junk as a tribute to the Native American plight.
Frank Van Zant, who had some Creek Indian heritage came from Oklahoma. After serving in WWII, he came to Nevada at worked at various jobs including logging, mining, truck driving, and as a preaching minister.
Somewhere along the line, Van Zant met an old medicine woman who told him, “In the final days, there shall rise up a place called Thunder Mountain.” She said that only those who lived at Thunder Mountain would survive the apocalypse.
It was after this talk with the medicine woman that Van Zant changed his name to Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder. Before long he moved his family to the desert and began to build tbe monument. From a nearby junkyard came a treasure trove of building supplies, such as farm equipment, typewriters, car hoods and wheels.
When Van Zandt was alive he lived in the three-story house, built of bottles and concrete, with his family. From the roof, spires and pretzels of painted concrete shoot out in all directions, culminating in a dome skeleton. The windows of the house are made from automobile windshields.
Through the years Chief Thunder and his friends erected several unusual buildings from roadside junk and boards and metal from abandoned buildings. With the enormous quantities of concrete used, Van Zandt calculated that his fantastic home would stand for a thousand years. Elsewhere on the property are concrete totem poles, rusted refrigerator doors serving as billboards for political statements, baby doll heads stuck on tree branches and blue glass pole insulators everywhere.
Chief Thunder continued his work on the site until 1989. At the age of 69, he committed suicide, some say because he had completed his masterpiece.
Though Thunder Mountain has been designated a Nevada State Historic Site and a National Monument, it has suffered from neglect and vandalism since Chief Thunder is no longer there to look over it. His son, Daniel Van Zant has led an effort to save the site and some repairs have begun to be made on the property.
The main home is no longer occupied and there are no park rangers or tour guides at the site. When you visit, be sure to leave a donation in the big metal box at the beginning of the walkway that takes you on a tour through the grounds.
Thunder Mountain Park is located between Winnemucca and Lovelock off I-80, about 120 miles east of Reno, Nevada.
Thunder Mountain Monument LLC
P.O. Box 162
Imlay, Nevada 89418
Stokes Castle in Austin, Nevada
As a summer home for his sons, Anson Phelps Stokes – mine developer, railroad magnate and member of a prominent eastern family, began to build the Stokes Castle in 1896. It was completed in the summer of 1897.
Patterned after a family painting of Italy, the castle was used by the Stokes family for only a short period. When they traveled west in June of 1897 with some of their friends, they spent a month at the castle. In October, they spent a few more days and returned in the summer of 1898. However, this time they sold out the mine, milling equipment and the castle and never returned again.
The castle is three stories high and 50 square feet around. Built of hand-hewn native granite a hand-operated windlass was used to raise the huge slabs of granite into place. The first floor contained the kitchen and dining room, the second floor was the living room, and the third floor contained two bedrooms. On the first floor each room had a fireplace and on the upper floors their wore wooden balconies.
Over the next half century the castle fell into neglect and was owned by several individuals. In the early 1950’s a promoter tried to buy the structure with the intention of moving it to the Las Vegas strip. However, Molly Magee Knudsen, a cousin to Anson Stokes purchased it in 1956. Having grown up hearing the stories about her cousins castle in Nevada, she could not resist.
Molly, a New York socialite, soon turned ranch owner and prominent citizen of Austin. Soon a chain link fence was placed around the building to help preserve it form further theft and vandalism.
Today the Stokes Castle stands as a sentinel on the north end of Reese River Valley, a reminder of the heydays of Austin’s past history.
Stokes Castle has a well-maintained road leading to it and can be viewed year round. Located on Highway 50 on the west side of Austin, this historic building is well worth a look-see.