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Native American Myths: The Mountain and the Serpent

Long ago a giant, slow moving serpent was lying on a mountain, when a storm arose. The serpent was angered by lightning that disturbed its rest. Its anger swelled with the thunder and crashing lightning. Not finding solace by glaring at the clouds or lightning, it lashed out at the mountain.

The serpent coiled around the base of the mountain and squeezed. It squeezed and squeezed until the pressure  built up. The pressure caused the rocks to crumble, stones to melt, and fire to shoot out of the cracks. Liquid rock quickly flowed from the fissures.

The heat from the molten rock was so intense that it killed the slow moving reptile and destroyed its lair, leaving only a trail of its bones in the lava caves.

The spirit of the snake, though, slithered in the mud, creating a river channel that would soon fill with water and flow to the sea. Today, visitors can see the remnants of the serpent in the ashes (cinders) and charred bones (basaltic lava) left behind. The spirit is all around us.

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Grand Tetons and the Snake River by Ansel Adams

Source: National Park Service, with credits to Indian Legends from the Northern Rockies by Ella E. Clark, University of Oklahoma Press.

Similar myths come from several areas: the region of the US that is now in south-central Idaho, and in central New Mexico, among the lava flows and ice caves west of Albuquerque.