Native American Myths: The Mountain and the Serpent
Long, long ago a giant serpent was lying asleep on a mountain, when a storm arose. The slow moving serpent was angered by lightning that disturbed its rest. Its anger swelled more and more 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 soon 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 began to flow from a stream to a river. The flowing spirit made bends in the river as it descended from the heights and winded its way all the way to the ocean, digging out a channel as it advanced. It disappeared in the depths of the sea.
Today, visitors can see the remnants of the serpent in the ashes (cinders) and charred bones (basaltic lava) left behind in the ice caves. The spirit of the serpent is all around us.
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 with volcanic activity: the region of the US that are now in South-Central Idaho, and in Central New Mexico, among the lava flows and ice caves west of Albuquerque.