Talking with a Volcano: Native American Perspectives on the Eruption of Sunset Crater, Arizona

Richard Stoffle, Kathleen Van Vlack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A new volcano erupted in the eleventh century AD in the San Francisco volcanic field, which has as many as 80 old volcanoes and 600 eruption cones all centered around Flagstaff, Arizona. This volcanic landscape has been a cultural center for Native American spiritual activities for up to 23,000 years. During that time, they have come to perceive volcanoes as earth navels and thus places where the earth is reborn. For this reason, the emergence of an active volcano, called Sunset Crater, drew pilgrims and resulted in the construction of ceremonial and support communities surrounding a place called Wupatki. This paper is partially based on a 2004 study funded by the U.S. National Park Service, which produced 80 ethnographic interviews with representatives of six Native American ethnic groups composed of 12 tribes and pueblos. The analysis is informed by a total of 23 ethnographic studies of volcanoes conducted with Native Americans by the authors. In all studies, Native American participants conveyed that they have cultural connections with volcanoes that derive from their Creation-based knowledge of the Earth as being alive and volcanoes being its rebirth. Traditional cultural information is critical to park management and compliance with various laws, regulations, executive orders, and policies so that park managers can better address tribal requests for continued access, use, and interpretation of park natural resources. Native Americans involved in our NPS ethnographic studies agreed that it is not necessary for the NPS to accept as true what Native Americans believe, but it is essential to tell in park interpretative settings both stories side by side with equal accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number196
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Geoparks
  • Native Americans
  • Pilgrimage
  • Sunset crater
  • United States national park service
  • Volcanoes
  • Wupatki

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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