Sunday, December 9, 2018

Blues Cruise Bliss - Concerts at Sea

The great and crazy thing about blues cruises is that they provide hours and hours of back-to-back kick-butt performances and FUN, and they do it all ON THE OCEAN!

    You can gawk in one direction and see the blazing sun dipping into the Pacific.

Then turn your spinning head to see a musical performance bringing down the house on the outdoor pool deck.

   Ruthie Foster's Quintet is a marvel, performing here at sunset. 

You can also chill in the Crow's Nest lounge atop the ship listening to, or jamming with, amateurs and pros, sometimes twice a day. Very popular.

               Then turn and see albatrosses gliding behind the ship.

      And you can do this most of the day and all night.

The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise entertainment usually begins by 11 a.m. The last scheduled act starts around 12:30 a.m. and ends ---- whenever. I have yet to stay up past 4 a.m., but the most zealous blues fans don't surrender to fatigue until dawn is breaking and bacon fumes waft from the galley.

Impromptu jam sessions are a huge part of the musical scene, occurring in large venues and small, on the pool deck, lounges or in intimate piano bars. Maybe elevators. All over the place, people are making music, unscheduled and inspired.

One of my favorite 2018 cruise moments: At a piano bar, two members of the California Honeydrops improvise with pianist Bettye Jo Miller w/Mack Davis. Lech Wierzynski, left, is the Honeydrop's lead vocalist and trumpet player. He's flanked by clarinetist Leon. The Honeydrops wowed me big time.  Especially the multi-talented Lech, who, in this shot, had just put down his trumpet and is making eye contact. Hi there!
Indefatiguable Bettye Jo Miller and Mack Davis.
Musical entertainment began the moment the ship left the embarkation port, in this case, San Diego. It continued until the party ended early Sunday morning when blues cruisers were forced to vacate at the same dock. Our cruise began Oct. 28 and ended Nov. 7, 2018. It was the best!

       For an official wrap-up of this cruise, click this link.

On our sweet little veranda, leaving San Diego in our wake. PK appeared to be checking my heart, which was pounding with anticipation. We're about to visit ports of Cabo San Lucas, on the tip of the Baja Peninsula, then into the Sea of Cortez to Laz Paz and Loreto. Photo credit: Steve Lambros
But honestly, Blues Cruising is all about the music. Cool excursions on land and sea are offered, but so are in-port performances by on-ship musicians.

Smaller towns, such as Loreto, are visited by just a handful of cruise ships during a typical season and go all out for a cruise ship crowd. 
We enjoyed a fun day in Loreto, browsing the colorful shops and
  dancing with the locals. Musicians from the ship performed at
several different venues around the town.
This little guy was itching to dance, and soon he was boogying with his friends.
Billy Branch is blowing his sweet harmonica into our faces in Loreto. Loved it!
The scenery was A-OK traveling south from Loreto down to La Paz, the last of 3 ports.  
    Rev. Peyton and his Big Damn Band included only a drummer and his wife on the unlikely washboard. The Rev. is a big damn presence and produced
big damn sounds that drove dancers to their feet.

Mindi Adair and the Boneshakers performed at the Cabo Wabo club in Cabo San Lucas, although this photo was taken on the ship. She was one of at least a dozen artists we had never heard of before the cruise and are now fans.  
Tommy Castro and the Painkillers are Blues Cruise regulars. Great stuff!
On regular cruises, you can't count on running into anybody on your wavelength. On a blues cruise, common wavelengths vibrate like crazy around musical performances, creating as much excitement as the waves beneath the boat.

My new friend Gail and I became pals when, after standing a few minutes in a crowded venue, I invited her to step in front me so she could see. We were both boogieing in place, although the dance floor was vacant. "Come'on," she said, "Let's get the party started!" I followed her to the dance floor and the party ensued.

Here's another dance story. I was rockin' around the pool deck, as usual, with about 100 others and caught the eye of this fine woman. She sent her daughter to ask, "How old are you? My mom wants to know." Ha! I'm not the oldest person out there, but I may be one of the more rambunctious. I admitted to being 73 when her daughter introduced me. I saw her the next day and she flashed me this radiant smile. She has 20 years on me. She declined my dancing invitation, although she was having a wonderful time. I hope to still be rockin' out at her age. 

The great band Los Lobos was a headliner. Here they're playing on the Main Stage, which is a large theater accommodating 700 people or more.  Photo credit, Michael McGrath

Blues legend Taj Mahal, with the Phantom Blues Band, still wows his fans. He performed several times in the larger of the ship's seven venues.  Photo credit, Michael McGrath

G Love and Special Sauce, a condiment that  G Love actually makes. He did a morning cooking demo on the ship. Morning shows included interesting stuff such as this. Also, on this cruise, a couple of musician panels discussing such things as how the blues music scene is evolving, and how participants got their start. Best of all, however, was the first morning's 10:30 a.m. tribute to Aretha Franklin. Photo credit, Michael McGrath

Here's the crowd the first morning of the cruise at the main stage, a theater-like venue. They're listening to 20-some musicians creating a rousing and emotional tribute to Aretha Franklin. Although men performed,  women were the heart and soul of this extraordinary show. All before lunch.

The women included Deva Mahal, one of Taj's daughters.

And Zooey Mahal, another of his progeny. 

Interested in cranking up your fun meter? Check it out.
 2019 Blues Cruise  

In case you hadn't noticed, I am recommending blues cruising to any adult who loves blues, rock, Americana, funk, jazz, Zydeco, etc. etc., and especially people who love to dance, sing, or play an instrument or two.

I don't get paid for this. I'm just a cheerful kind of person trying to tell you that if you have the time and $$, you oughta try this. Or perhaps another music-type cruise. Get out the ol' bucket list and write it on there.

PK and I have been on three blues cruises, and we will doubtless go again. 

The only hazard is that afterward, ordinary life can seem way too dull, resulting in an affliction most blues cruisers know: PBCSS 

A post about an earlier blues cruise and the sad aftermath. I have PBCSS right now!
Blues Cruise and the Post Blues Cruise Stress Syndrome 

In the end, it's all a beautiful blur. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thanksgiving leftovers? Try Turkey Stuffed Roasted Poblano Peppers with Chipotle Crema

I love this stuffed roasted poblano pepper recipe for using leftover turkey. It's for pepper lovers only, however. Although you could substitute a mild green bell pepper if you must.

Why would I even think about turkey leftovers when Thanksgiving is still a few days away?

Short answer: I'm anal.

Longer: I volunteered, in a diminished moment, to make gravy at the legendary - to about 25 friends and family - four-day Thanksgiving blow-out at a rented Southern Oregon property near Selma, OR. This will be our 11th year of fantastic food and fun.

I roasted a turkey a few days ago so I could collect the juices and browned bits for proper gravy making. Most of the turkey is now in the freezer, along with the gravy. But I had an ample packet of leftover turkey in the frig just begging for a new approach.

Earlier, I'd purchased three large peppers with no particular recipe in mind. I needed to use them so I Googled: turkey and poblanos.

A great-looking recipe appeared on this blog - Joyful Healthy Eats, a professional cooking blog with great photos, sponsors and all that. 

Turkey Stuffed Poblanos with Avocado Crema - click for the original recipe

The recipe was the jumping off point for what turned out to be a keeper. I did make some significant changes to the original, however.

Primary among them was roasting the peppers and using leftover roasted turkey rather than raw ground turkey. I think roasting makes the peppers taste better and also eliminates the tough skin, which comes off easily after roasting. I subbed chipotle crema for avocado crema and used sliced avocados on the side. Prepared (homemade) salsa made flavoring the stuffing easy. 
Poblanos roasting on a gas range. They may also be roasted in the oven with an electric or gas stove. I first saw the stovetop roasting in Mexico when a group of friends rented a house for a week and we splurged a couple times to hire a neighborhood woman/chef to prepare dinner. I was fascinated by the roasting method and at home gave it a try. It's easy, and so is clean-up. Just make sure your vent fan is working.

Perfectly roasted poblano peppers. Well, almost perfect. Still a bit of green where
the tough skin will stick. To finish the pepper prep, run the pepper under cool water, rubbing gently to remove the skin. Cut the stem end close to the top, and pull out the seeds and membranes. Rinse well and drain before filling. 

The original recipe is linked above; mine with alterations follows.

Turkey Stuffed Roasted Poblanos with Chipotle Crema 

This recipe will feed two generously.

3 large fresh poblano peppers (often confused with pasilla peppers), roasted
1 cup chopped roasted turkey, white or dark
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup cooked basmati rice (or whatever you have)
1/2 pint, or more, prepared salsa 
3 heaping tablespoons of prepared artichoke, jalapeno and Parmesan dip
1/2 cup raw onion, chopped
smoked paprika for sprinkling
cilantro, trimmed
1/4 cup chopped and seeded jalapenos (optional!)
One medium avocado, sliced and spritzed with lemon or lime and a bit of salt
Sliced or grated cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, Monterey) as much as you prefer

Turkey, raw onion, beans, rice, salsa, and artichoke,  jalapeno, Parmesan dip mixed.

Prep time about 20 minutes - bakng time, 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 350

Wash and dry the peppers. 

Roast the peppers, 10 minutes or less. If you have a gas stove, turn a burner or two on high, place the peppers directly on the burner, and turn with tongs until the skins are evenly blackened.

When using an electric stove, place the peppers on a rack close to the oven broiler set on high. Turn to blacken evenly and remove from oven. 

Either method set the peppers aside on a rack for at least five minutes to cool. Don't overroast the peppers; you want them to be pliable but not mushy or falling apart.

While waiting for peppers to cool, mix together the chopped (or shredded) turkey, beans, rice, salsa, raw onion, and the artichoke, jalapeno, Parmesan dip. If you don't have this dip, substitute with mayonnaise and a bit of grated cheese to moisten and flavor the stuffing. Or you can add more prepared salsa. 

When peppers are cooled enough to handle, cut off the stem ends close to the top and pull out the seeds and membranes. Rinse, making sure to remove all the hot little seed devils. Spoon the stuffing into the peppers, shaking gently to fill the peppers evenly.

If the peppers aren't large enough to be used whole, slice open, fill with turkey mixture, then fold over and secure with wooden toothpicks. 

Sprinkle the peppers with smoked paprika, if you like. 

Ready to bake.

Arrange the peppers in an ungreased casserole dish and put them into the preheated oven. Set timer for 25 minutes.

When timer dings, remove the dish from oven and apply sliced or grated cheese and return to the oven for five more minutes to allow cheese to melt.
The stuffing I couldn't fit into the peppers was fine cooked outside.
 I used sliced pepper jack cheese.

Serve immediately with sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, salsa, and chipotle crema. We like a roasted tortilla on the side with diced chilies, onions, and cheese.

Chipotle crema anyone?

This is a staple at our house. Although we make it with our homegrown dried and smoked (then reconstituted) red ripe jalapenos (AKA chipotles), it's much easier to make with canned chipotles in adobo sauce.

How to Make It
  • Use two to three canned peppers and a tablespoon or so of the adobo sauce. Depends upon how hot you like it. The unused portion can be frozen.
  • Dice or process the peppers finely.
  • Measure roughly equal amounts of mayo, plain yogurt, and sour cream and mix with the peppers. I usually use half a cup of each.
  • Add a bit of lemon or lime juice, if you like. Or more adobo, if you want it spicier.
  • Adjust everything to your taste
I also add serrano or garlic chili sauce. Chipotle crema is something to play with until you get it right for you and others who'll be using it. We're a hot-food loving little family.

The crema keeps in the refrigerator for up to a month. But it rarely lasts that long.

If you try the recipe, please let me know what you may have done to make it better!

More turkey leftover recipes

Pain in the ass turkey soup and an epiphany

Turkey/broccoli casserole the year we went to Tahoe

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

You don't have to be Christian to be a good person

My dear friend Laurie Gerloff shot this "God photo" during a foggy morning walk near Eugene, OR. Like countless other non-Christians, Laurie is a kind, thoughtful, principled person whose "church" is without walls or ceilings. 

The parking lot at my popular health club was packed and I was late for Zumba. I picked the only spot I could looked too tight, but having an unwarranted faith in my parking chops, I went for it.

The sickening sound of metal against metal was followed by a string of expletives. Mine.

A quick look confirmed that I'd dinged another vehicle, and my Subaru Outback had scratches. Such a stupid thing that could mean excessive repair costs, insurance hassles and inconveniencing an innocent stranger. I was kicking myself.

The car's owner was nowhere in sight. I wrote a note with my contact information and slid it under a windshield wiper. 

After my class, seeing that my note was still unread, I made a quick visit to an auto body shop for a damage estimate. The estimator guy took a peek at the scraped paint and the invisible, to me anyway, minor damage to the bumper.

"What's it going to cost me?" I asked, steeling for the worst.

"You could go to a Subaru dealership and buy some paint," he said. "Bring it back, and we'll apply the paint for nothing."

I restrained myself from hugging him as I expressed relief and gratitude.

I asked if I could send the victim of my errant parking to him as the damage to her vehicle was also minor.


That afternoon I  got a call. The woman was cordial but miffed.

"Well, I guess I should get your insurance information so I can start dealing with this," she said.

I enjoyed telling the woman that she, too, could avoid insurance hassles. And, of course, I would pay for the paint.

She got right on it. Later the same day she called to report that the repair was done, and the local car dealer even had a sale on touch-up paint.

I mailed her a $10 bill and a friendly note

She called the next day when the note and money hit her mailbox.

The first thing she said: "You must be a Christian."

Silence on my part.

I was thinking of my friends and relatives, a few of them Christians, but most, not. 

All would have done the same thing I did. 

Well, no, I told her, when I gained control of my tongue. "I was raised a Lutheran, but it didn't take."

Silence on her end.

But, I continued, after the uncomfortable pause, "You don't have to be Christian to do the right thing. Or to be a good person."

The rest of our brief conversation was awkward. It was as if the idea that a non-Christian could be a good person had rendered her mute.

Like too many people in our sadly fractured culture, she's stuck in an us-versus-them, if-you're-not-a-believer-you-can't-be-a-decent-human-being-let-alone-be-my friend mindset.

Son Chris Korbulic captured this "God" image in the California redwoods. Another beautiful photo by a thoughtful man whose spiritual well is filled by the natural world.
On the other hand, I know people, good people, most of them friends and family, who have little if any tolerance for Christians, especially evangelical ones. They want nothing to do with them and have all kinds of preconceived notions that evangelicals are ignorant, bigoted, uneducated narrow-minded saps.

How do I know?

I learned the hard way during my thirties when I was immersed for three years in an evangelical church, an episode that shocked and/or dismayed most of my friends and family members.  

The majority of my people stuck with me, but one couple distanced themselves from my Christian self and no longer included me (us) in their monthly group discussions/potlucks.

How did I stumble into Pentecostalism?

This glowing lenticular cloud near Mt. Whitney looks inhabited by a UFO with a giant LED beacon on top. God is there, too, I think. Shot in the Alabama Hills just outside Lone Pine, CA in 2015. The Alabama Hills are magical and can't help but inspire thoughts about the greater picture - the Universe and our place in it. And God's place.

First a quick personal faith history. I was raised in the Midwest in a strict Lutheran church. Getting all dressed up and attending Sunday services was just what my family did. I did not question. But I did not enjoy. Every service included reciting the Nicene Creed, singing mostly joyless hymns, and enduring droning sermons that were too long.

I abandoned what passed for faith soon after leaving home to attend college and didn't revisit it until I was 33 years old, a newspaper reporter, wife, and mother of a two-year-old. A cooperative childcare situation brought me into contact with evangelical Christianity, and I attended a service out of curiosity. What the hell were these people doing attending church three times a week?!

I was blown away at a Pentecostal hands-waving-in-the-air, speaking-in-tongues, being-slain-in the-spirit, foot-washing kind of church.  This was in the tiny town of Rogue River, Oregon, where I still live. This was not the dull and dusty church I'd experienced as a kid, but a worship experience that flowed with emotion and fervor. There was not a dull moment, and the openness of the congregants with one another dazzled me.

I attended this church for three years, participated in a pastor-led Bible study, which I found enormously interesting, and joined the choir. I studied the Bible in classes and on my own. After about a year, I finally went forward during a Sunday service to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Yes, I did that.

My come-to-Jesus moment elicited much excitement. People hugged and congratulated me. I was embarrassed by the undeserved attention. The pastor, however, was not impressed.

"You came forward" he acknowledged, as I was leaving the church. "But... do you believe?"

He guessed I didn't. He was right.

But I wanted to. So I continued to lift my hands and sing praises to God and to witness actions and interactions among the congregants that touched and astounded me.

I was stirred by Jesus. I ignored all the fierce, mean, judgemental jealous God stuff in the Old Testament and focused on Jesus's teachings.

He was harping always about love and forgiveness. Snippets of Bible verses: (Don't skip!)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • God hath not given us the spirit of fear - but of love.
  • Love by serving one another.
  • It is good not to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended, or made weak.
  • Love suffereth long, and is kind.
  • Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.
  • Let us not love in word only but in deed and faith.
  • Forgive, be merciful. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; Write them upon the table of thine heart.
Imagine what the world might be like if those professing to be Christian, as well as those who don't, took these teachings to heart.  I know many who are and do. I love my Christian friends.

On the other hand, my beloved friends who are NOT Christian? They are also kind, forgiving, generous, loving people.

Some, however, do have a blind spot when it comes to Christians, again, the evangelicals especially. I wish they would get over it. We're all trying to the right thing. Aren't we?

The Sierra Nevada mountains near Mt. Whitney as seen through the Mobius Arch
 in the Alabama Hills. God is there, all over the place.

So back there in the 1980s I was reading the Bible and thinking about Jesus and how I might be a better person.

Forgive. Love. Be kind. Write these words on the table of your heart, Jesus instructed.

I tried inscribing the ticker without worrying so much about whether Jesus was God. He did not need to be God for me to believe that being kinder, more forgiving and loving was an all-around good idea.

Then along came Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Pat Robertson, and other revolting and corrupt televangelists. Sleaze, fleas, and blasphemies.

They were as far removed from most of the Christians in my lively little church as teddy bears are from grizzlies.

But some locals had contracted the Moral Majority fever being spread in the 1980s by Falwell, an activist preacher.

Falwell founded the Moral Majority, which helped establish the Republican fundamentalist Christian right as a political force. The organization opposed civil rights, women's rights and gay rights among other things. Sound familiar?

During the Moral Majority's heyday, a traveling preacher came to deliver messages to young people in my community at the church I attended. Somehow, the church was packed, and many of the youth were whipped up by the traveling preacher's rhetoric. Dozens of young people came forward to accept Jesus as their savior, even after the preacher bellowed about the immoral nature of popular music.

The next night, at his exhortation, teens brought their sinful CDs to be tossed into a bonfire built for that purpose on the edge of the church parking lot.

Yes. It was an air-and-spirit-polluting music-burning night in Rogue River, OR.  No different from burning books.

I was disgusted. I couldn't jibe the words and deeds of the Moral Majority crowd with the love and caring I witnessed and received in church.

Now, nearly 40 years later, I still love deeply the friend whose example made me curious enough to attend church in the first place. I appreciate the structure for doing good that churches provide and the love wattage that can blaze through a congregation, for God and for one another. And maybe even us heathens.

I have no regrets that I spent nearly three years immersed in the evangelical world. Instead, I am grateful to have some insight.

But I wish that Christian leaders would stick to preaching and steer away from politicizing.  It can be done.

And I have to admit that I am perplexed that so many Christians appear to be Trump groupies. Seriously folks, what would Jesus do?

I can't picture Jesus in a red ball cap railing at the desperate and dispossessed at the US/Mexican border.

"God" is in the vibrant leaves, the clear rushing water, the pristine
  air on the Upper Rogue River. 

Most Thursdays during cold wet months, a handful from the local congregation, people I met all those years ago, can be found dispensing homemade soups, sandwiches and Christian love to the homeless in our community.

Like me, they're getting old now, and some have serious health issues. Still, they're making vats of soup, loaves of bread, hauling it all to a parking lot, setting up a shelter, unloading everything onto tables, and going all out to do what Jesus commanded:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
                    Love by serving one another. 
Let us not love in word only but in deed and faith.

That's what real Christians do.

And, by the way, what many good-hearted non-believers do as well.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Not Cancer — Life resumes

Nothing like the sight of the sea and wind-varnished grasses to make
 one appreciate being alive.

During my recent six-month dermatology check-up,  my doc noticed an irregular spot on my upper back.  
It was not raised but was colorful. Brown and red is not a good combo for skin lesions, she explained.

"We could keep our eye on it until your next check-up (in six months) or take it off now," she said.

"Get rid of it! " I said without hesitation.

She did a "shave" biopsy, I asked to take a gander at  the fleshy disc before it was shipped to a pathology lab, where it would be scrutinized for evil.

It looked harmless enough. But I remember another shave biopsy in late 2015 that I'd asked to see. Tiny, pink, translucent.  It WAS evil. Nineteen days after that biopsy, my then-doctor called me with the bad news.

I had a particularly nasty form of melanoma called a Spitz nevus. 

The initial pathology report said it was metastatic, which means it was spawned by a primary tumor lurking elsewhere in my body.

A second opinion called it merely invasive.

For an excruciating month, I had cancer.  Chest X rays, blood tests, surgery, and breast biopsies were bad enough, but the worst part was NOT KNOWING whether the invasive devil had invaded. 

I was cast into what I called the Cancer Club in the first of a series of posts I wrote during that time.  I was angry and scared. 

I wrote furiously—my way of coping. I wrote too much, probably. The writing was therapy, and reader responses —especially from cancer patients and survivors—were heartwarming and encouraging.

The best of the blog posts was Back from the Brink - 10 Lessons Learned,  (The other cancer-related posts are linked from that one if you're interested.)

This time around, I was calm, but still worried at the prospect of a bad diagnosis.

However, I knew that even if the discolored spot was malignant, it was being caught early. I  was thinking how lucky I am to have dermatology exams every six months, and a great dermatologist. (Not the guy who waited 19 days to deliver the biopsy results.)

I was relieved, of course, to hear a week later that all was fine.

Presto! Back to the ordinary life for which I am so grateful, renewed in my efforts to live well, be kind, and savor every fleeting day. 

And quit grousing about getting old! 

Posts about earlier cancer experience are here. 

The Blue Pool on Oregon's McKenzie River is like looking into the pure eye of nature,
affirming, once again, how great it is to have the gift of life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Craters of the Moon - No volcano in sight

Because I am an unbelievably fortunate person, I enjoyed a series of adventures and entertainments in July and early August. I used to feel guilty about being so favored, but I got over that and now just enjoy what I can, while I can.

The first fun was a week rafting Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River with a small group of treasured family and friends. Awesome. I can't imagine a better river experience. Blog coming.

Next was a solo visit to the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, the subject of this post.

A collapsed lava tube in the Indian Tunnel cave at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
Then came camping, dancing and laughing at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, MT. I was so excited about it last year that I had to return, dragging along Charla, a girlfriend from East Texas. Another writing project.

At the festival's end, the two of us meandered back to Oregon on a serendipitous road trip in my camper van. (It belongs to PK as well, but he didn't happen to be with us. It was mine, all mine. And Charla's, of course.) Words and photos about the road trip may show up in this space.

But for now,  just this — Craters of the Moon

Getting to Craters of Moon National Monument and Preserve may involve ripping your tires off  Idaho's I-84, where the speed limit almost matches the interstate number, as travelers zip between Idaho's east/west borders.
If you have a flexible schedule, and are up for a unique diversion, peel north off the Interstate onto one of the two-lane roads that will intersect with highways 20, 26, and 93. All the same road. Craters of the Moon is worth the time and effort.

What's so good about it?
NOT CROWDED.  I swear, I saw at least 50 people on trails throughout Craters of the Moon during nearly three hours. Just not all at the same time. In mid-July, the height of tourist season. Isn't that refreshing? A fascinating public treasure that isn't teeming and steaming with irritable  tourists? The masses are at Yellowstone National Park, or the Grand Tetons, both of which  are only a few hours drive east. I love Yellowstone and the Tetons, but not during the congested maddening thick of high-tourist season.
TRAILS I took advantage of a few short hikes before I tackled a lava tube cave. This short but steep trail up a cinder cone led to an overlook, but also a collapsed lava tube with some surprising detritus.
Two hats, one deteriorated and the other, as if it may have been blown off somebody's head earlier in the day.  Plus a couple plastic bags and/or Styrofoam containers, litter the floor about 20 feet below. The hats? Well, I had to grab mine before it blew off. But the plastic/styrofoam? Likely a result of careless trash disposal. 


Short trails were good but I was most interested in exploring one of the three caves. A ranger, answering the same questions over and over at the visitors' center, said the most extensive and  interesting cave was Indian Tunnel. I went there.
BEAUTY! Why was I surprised by all the colors and textures in the cave? 

CAVE EXPLORATION  Inside Indian Tunnel, I vined in on a small group led by a monument naturalist. Among other things, I learned that the tunnel has two exits, and the more challenging spares a person a longer walk back to the parking lot. I'd made a stupid mistake when setting off from the van – not carrying water. The trail was hot and exposed, and what did I expect from the July sun radiating off the black lava? I looked for the shorter way back to hydration.

A MODEST ADVENTURE  I carried a flashlight but didn't need to use it.
Having natural light made all the difference to a novice spelunker.
There it is - the end! Actually, it was easier than it looks. 
No crawling involved. A little climbing required, however. 
Now they tell me! I expected the exit to be close
to the paved trail. But no.
Following the markers to the paved trail was fun and took my mind off of being so thirsty. It took about 20-25 minutes to reach the parking lot and my water bottle.
NICE CAMPGROUND - A typical campsite within the monument. When I arrived in the early afternoon, numerous campsites were still available. According to a monument employee,  a few out of 51 sites had been vacant the previous night. I don't see electric and water here, but I did note fine-looking restrooms. All sites are on a first-come basis.
The nearest towns are about 20 miles distant.

I could see staying a night here after a leisurely day hiking. If you don't care to hike, the area can be seen on a good quality paved road in an hour or so. But you'd miss the good stuff. Most trails are paved and easy with some handicapped access.

There's more! Exploration and camping by foot or 4WD are available in the adjacent Craters of the Moon Wilderness. 

NOTE: Craters of the Moon is part of the Great Rift, a 52-mile long  series of deep fissures. From the park's brochure:

The Craters of the Moon are definitely of volcanic origin. But where is the volcano? Vast volumes of lava issued not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures —known collectively as the Great Rift—that cross the Snake River Plain. Beginning 15,000 years ago lava welled up from the Great Rift to produce this vast ocean of rock. The most recent eruption occurred a mere 2,000 years ago, and geologists believe that future events are likely.