The Wild and Explosive Past of Northwest New Mexico

For thousands of years, New Mexico’s northwestern quadrant has been home to a wide variety of native peoples. The places they chose to live are a showcase of the powers of volcanoes and erosion. These natural monuments help define the territories these people have chosen and have become symbols for their homelands. Towering volcanic remnants shoot up from the earth while others record disruptive flows of lava that continue nearly to the present. Some formations defy normal human expectations.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about the land and people of Northwest New Mexico.

Social Studies Standards

People, Places & Environments: E, F, K

Discussion Prompts

  • David Yetman discusses the “heritage of erosion” and the power of volcanoes. Describe the volcanic activity in this area and how it affects the land.
  • Discuss the 1979 incident where there was a uranium spill into Rio Puerco Church Rock, New Mexico. What kind of damage did this do? How might it have been prevented?
  • The Juniper tree bark fiber is used to weave baskets and mats. Come up with 2-3 additional uses for this fiber that would be helpful to the native peoples.
  • If you were to create a rock garden similar to the one shared in the video, what formations or design would you create and what would it represent?

Lesson Activities

  • Write a poem or short story about the Navajo Indians who lived in Northwest New Mexico. Include details about their lives and the area where they lived.
  • Make a geological timeline of the Rio Grande Rift Zone including the volcanic action and erosion over millions of years.
  • Develop a 5-step action plan for uranium mines that will prevent radioactive waste spills and help to protect the people, animals, and land.
  • Research either Zuni pueblos or Zuni pottery. Create a PowerPoint or poster with illustrations and notes.


  • basalt
  • defy
  • disruptive
  • dykes
  • emblematic
  • eons
  • exposure
  • juniper
  • uncanny
  • uranium mine


In the Americas Season 10 Lesson Episode 3