Variations in Cenozoic volcanism in the Western United States correlate rather closely with changes in tectonic setting: intermediate-composition rocks and their associated differentiates were erupted through orogenic or fairly stable crust, whereas basaltic or bimodal basalt-rhyolite suites were erupted later-concurrently with crustal extension and normal faulting. Lower and middle Cenozoic continental lavas, erupted onto postorogenic terranes, are predominantly intermediate types (andesite to rhyodacite), commonly with closely associated more silicic ash-flow sheets. Compositional zonations in individual ash-flow sheets, from rhyolite upward into quartz latite, record magmatic differentiation in underlying batholithic source chambers. The intermediate lavas probably represent the greater part of these batholiths and the ash-flow tuffs their differentiated tops. Continental volcanic activity of this type was most voluminous in the northwestern United States in Eocene time, but shifted southward in the Oligocene; contemporaneous sea-floor basalts occur in the Oregon-Washington coast ranges. Largely intermediate-composition calc-alkalic igneous suites, that become more alkalic toward the continental interior, are characteristic of most of the North and South American cordilleran belt. Similar volcanic associations are forming now around most of the Pacific margin where continental plates override oceanic crust along active subduction systems, marked by Benioff seismic zones and oceanic trenches. A similar subduction mechanism probably operated in the Western United States until late Cenozoic time. Analogy with chemical variations across active island arcs suggest that early and middle Cenozoic subduction occurred along two subparallel imbricate zones that dipped about 20 degrees eastward. The western zone emerged at the continental margin, but the eastern zone was entirely beneath the continental plate, partly coupled to the western zone below the low-velocity layer. Predominantly intermediate-composition volcanism persisted throughout the Western United States until the initial intersection of North America with the East Pacific rise started the progressive destruction of the subduction system.