Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

A Museum Of Wonder In San Jose, Mummy Approved

By Sam McManis, The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Great, this is all I need, another pointless and wholly irrational fear to further cinch the neural pathways of my knotted psyche.

Here I was, roaming the dimly lit hallways of the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in downtown San Jose, marveling at the Moorish architecture, the chiseled hieroglyphics, the two-level replica of a tomb, the everyday objects of ancient life (combs, hair extensions, kohl eyeliner applicators), when I came to a room called the “Afterlife Gallery.”

Among the exhibits, I came face-to-desiccated face with a mummy said to date from 1549-1064 BCE (Before Common Era). I thought I was prepared for this, figured it would be no problem, because when you mummify something, aren’t you wrapping the body up tightly in linen, hermetically sealed from cranium to metatarsal?

But here was this dude — and yes, the explainer card on the glass case read “Mummy of an Upper-Class Egyptian Male” — partially unwrapped like a burrito. Head, neck and shoulders exposed, bare arms clasped over his still-covered torso, he creeped me out, I don’t mind saying. His, uh, remains were of a charcoal tinge, the texture looking like something between leather and a barbecued suckling pig, sans apple.

What really freaked me out, though, was his facial expression. Eyes heavy-lidded, mouth agape, he looked almost alive, as if about ready to sneeze or maybe let loose with a sleep-apnea-induced snore. I kept expecting him to crane his neck to the left, put me in his sights and croak, Do ya mind, pal? I’m trying to get some rest here.

I started sweating. My pulse paradiddled. My stomach churned. I had an overwhelming desire to flee, journalistic responsibility the only thing keeping me rooted in place. I later learned — thanks, Google — that I was suffering from acute Pharaohphobia, fear of mummies.

Pharaohphobia?

Yeah, it’s apparently a thing.

I pass this along merely as a friendly warning. You may be perfectly fine ogling the mummies, even those partially unwrapped. And you’ll have many such opportunities, too, since the Rosicrucian has among the 4,000 pre-dynastic Egyptian artifacts four human mummies and also a mummified Nile catfish, pet gazelle and cats. Funny how the ancient ones adored cats, venerated the little beasts, adorned them in jewelry and buried their remains along side their owners, proving that crazy cat ladies existed way before our time. (I, fortunately, do not suffer from ailurophobia, fear of cats, but for those afflicted, do take note.)

The museum is more than a mummy mausoleum, of course. The Rosicrucian Order, AMORC — more on the mysterious New Age-y organization later — does not display all of its unearthed treasures but, depending on the rotation, you’ll see one of the seven known statues of Cleopatra, a 1.5 million-year-old ax, a re-creation of King Tutankhamun’s tricked-out coffin, fragments from the Book of the Dead, and assorted trays, utensils, amulets and scarabs entombed with the dead because you never know when you might need a mirror in the great beyond.

All told, the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the Western United States resides in the ornate building, which also features a library, a planetarium and, outside, lovely gardens with exotic foliage like papyrus and the trao plant and a rare bunya pine, whose cones can weigh up to 15 pounds. It’s also the North American headquarters for AMORC, part quasi-religious order, part fraternal organization, part philosophical think tank, many parts mystical, mythological and totally esoteric to a lay person.

AMORC, by the way, stands for Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crusis, whose roots date to the 1600s in Europe and spread to America in the early 1900s. San Jose became the mothership in the early 1920s, when the block-long edifice was constructed in what then was farmland but now is a bustling downtown.

Escaping the freaky mummy, I needed to get grounded and repaired to the information alcove, where I sat through all three video presentations the order offers neophytes. I’d like to say I went away with a firm grasp of the theology — I took assiduous notes — but I failed to grasped the abstruse teachings. Guess that’s why they call it esoteric.

The presentation started straightforward enough. AMORC is “open to men and women of all nationalities, all religions, and all social classes” and its purpose is to “pass on teachings that are both cultural and spiritual.” The video’s narrator then asked the question viewers were wondering: “What do the Rosicrucian teachings address?” Brace yourself: “… (It) incorporates the traditional major themes, including the origins of the universe, time and space, life and conscious, psychic phenomena, the nature of dreams, the functions and characteristics of the soul, the mysteries of death, the afterlife and reincarnation, traditional symbolism, the science of numbers and other mystical subjects.”

Yup, that about covers it.

But what, like, do they believe? I had to sit through a lot before getting an answer. AMORC “transmutes the faults of human nature into opposite qualities, pride into humility. … If there is evil on Earth, it’s because humans delight in their weaknesses and do not sufficiently aspire to good.”

I wondered what that freaky mummy, the so-called upper-class Egyptian male, would’ve thought about the Rosicrucian tenets, whether, in mummification, he still retained his pride or found a transcendent humility. I wondered, but no way was I heading back to ask him myself.

ROSICRUCIAN EGYPTIAN MUSEUM

Where: 1660 Park Ave., San Jose

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; closed Mondays-Tuesdays

Cost: $9 general, $7 seniors and students with ID, $5 children ages 5-10

More information: www.egyptianmuseum.org; 408-947-3635

©2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: This mummy of an “upper-class Egyptian male” is displayed at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, Calif., on November 6, 2015. (Sam McManis/Sacramento Bee/TNS)

 

Senior Travelers Attracted To Road Scholar Program

By Sam McManis, The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

She is 84 and, much to her dismay, doesn’t get around as well as before. Only rides her bike 15 miles a day, now. In her younger days, she would navigate a sailboat to far-flung locales such as the Baltic and South China seas, hike in Tibet and Egypt, traverse the Great Wall of China, take off in an Airstream to search for America.

Aging, however, hasn’t slowed Nancy Sinclair’s yen for travel.

When Sinclair and her friends at Roseville, Calif.’s Sun City feel especially adventuresome, they will hit the road with Road Scholar, the educational travel service that for 40 years has provided trips and lifelong learning programs for older adults — 5 million or so, at last count — be it exploring the geologic masterpiece that is El Capitan with a naturalist in Yosemite National Park or ogling artistic masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s “David” in Florence, Italy.

For Sinclair, her Road Scholar experiences took her to Sedona, Ariz., and on to the Grand Canyon via train in one extended trip, a long visit to the Canadian Maritime provinces the next.

“Everything is done for you,” she said. “Every day is organized. You don’t get lost. You have people pointing out history. What I like, in any trip I take, is … to get the knowledge of the local area. They’ll bring in artists and local people who live in that area. They take you to places you might not find on your own. Plus, you learn what’s going on now. I’d never heard of it before my friend, a tour organizer, told me. Of course, back then, it was still called Elderhostel.”

Right, about the name: For its first 35 years, the nonprofit was known by the name Elderhostel, modeled on Scandinavian folk schools by two American academics. But in 2010, the organization underwent the marketing equivalent of an aging diva getting plastic surgery — a total branding makeover. Its name was changed to Road Scholar, which certainly seemed to better reflect the true nature of the program’s evolution, giving it an almost Kerouacian romantic sheen, coupled with high intellectual purpose.

With the first wave of baby boomers now comfortably ensconced in senior citizenship, and millions more hitting the Medicare threshold every year, Road Scholar CEO James Moses said the original name was a “misnomer,” at least partially. Sure, many of the participants could be classified as elderly, though many a boomer may blanch at that designation, but “people were never staying in hostels.”

Indeed, when you think Elderhostel, you think of granola-munching people bedding down in dingy dorm rooms and walking around in shorts, black knee-high socks and Birkenstocks. Truth is, these “experiences,” as Moses refers to trips, often are on luxury buses or trains, and the accommodations are plush, not spartan, the food gourmet and the wine certainly not guzzled out of smelly goat-skin bota bags. A name change had been batted around for years, since the American version of Elderhostel had long since morphed beyond its Scandinavian-inspired roots.

“The problem for years was, (Elderhostel) had became so iconic,” Moses said. “Everybody knew the name, and it was difficult for us to contemplate utilizing a different name. Ultimately, in 2010 we made the decision that this next generation of ‘elders’ was finding such difficulty with the name that it made sense for us to take the plunge.

“Probably the real transitioning started 10 years ago, when the World War II generation started to give way to the silent generation, to use demographers’ term. People, while they still have learning as their primary objective, began to become more interested in experiential learning rather than classroom-based learning. We started shifting the academic and lecture portion to be more on-site.”

This newer generation of “elders” embraces technology, Moses said, which makes on-site learning easier.

“If your experience is in a museum, the lecture now is taking place in the museum, rather than (in a lecture hall) before you get to the museum,” he said. “For instance, we use these listening devices where the academic is wearing a mike and everybody in the group has their ear buds. And you can hear, even if he or she is whispering, from 40 to 50 feet away. So you can lecture without disturbing anyone else in the museum. It makes for a great way for people to get information and learn.”

It is the educational aspect that separates Road Scholar from other for-profit travel organizations geared toward seniors. It’s one thing to see the Grand Canyon, marvel at its sweeping grandeur and read a plaque or national park brochure; it’s quite another to have a geologist delve deeply into the rock formations, describing how epochs of climate change carved out such a dramatic landscape. In addition to the tour Sinclair took from Sedona to the Grand Canyon, via the Verde Canyon Railroad, Road Scholar offers rafting trips, rim-to-river hikes and a six-night North-to-South Rim exploration.

Such insider knowledge was worth the $995 she paid, Sinclair said. (The rafting adventure is the most expensive of the Grand Canyon trips, at $1,485, including hotel stays and meals.)

“I’ve made comparisons, pricewise,” Sinclair said. “It’s pretty good, and you get what you pay for. You learn something.”

David Hess, also of Roseville, took part in several Road Scholar programs with his wife before she died last summer. Twice, they went on a Road Scholar-sponsored trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“They had one of the actors come in and tell us from their perspective how they did the role, what they liked and didn’t like about the production,” Hess said. “I remember this one actor from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ came in one time and said, ‘I told the director that I’d play the part any way they wanted it except as gay. And guess, what? He wanted me to play it gay.’

“They got one of the directors to come in and tell us why he directed it the way he did. It made you look at the (play) differently. People were asking this fellow all sorts of questions, from, ‘Did he belong to the union?’ to real technical things about the production, things of that sort.”

Sometimes, the Road Scholar attendees actually stay at universities. On a tour of the Four Corners area (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah), Hess recalled, he and his wife stayed near Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and interacted with students from NAU’s school of hotel and restaurant management.

“They made a gourmet dinner for us,” he said. “Pretty good. One time in Ashland, we ended up eating with the students (at Southern Oregon University). They used to call us White Caps, for all of our gray hair. That was funny.”

As with any tour, group dynamics can be tricky. Plus, interests can wax and wane in subject matter. Hess said he and his wife played hooky while on an Elderhostel (pre-name change) trip to the Northern California wine country.

“They were fine with it,” he said. “If you leave the group, they want to know. We just didn’t care for one of the courses they were teaching — I can’t remember which — so we excused ourselves and went to another restaurant, just to get away. But you come back, of course.”

Sinclair: “I had one of those kinds of experiences in a tour of Italy. Boy. You just roll with it. That’s life. You’re going to run into people you don’t get along with or things that don’t interest you.”

Moses did note that Road Scholar’s fastest-growing segment is in its Flex Programs — where participants have access to all the experts and amenities but chart their own specific itinerary.

“That (Flex) program really was a nod to this next generation of baby boomers,” Moses said. “They did a lot of traveling and backpacking on their own when they were younger. They like the idea of independent exploration, but they also wanted the benefit of insider access we provide. There’s less scheduled time, although it’s still a pretty rigorous academic experience. People like that.”

Another nod to a changing demographic is a growing number of trips for grandparents and their grandchildren — usually ages 6 to 14, but occasionally college-age.

“These days, a lot of grandparents don’t live near their grandchildren,” Moses says, “so it gives them a chance to experience some time together they wouldn’t have if that middle generation, the parents, were there.”

Other programs are geared for all three generations, including a recently introduced “family learning adventure” to Cuba.

The organization also has started using celebrities as “teachers.” In March, Road Scholar announced that former network news anchors Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather will host two lecture trips this spring and summer, one coming aboard a ship charting the maritime history of Nova Scotia.

“It probably will happen more often, as lots of these well-known experts in their fields begin to age and retire,” Moses said of using celebrities to host programs.

Might there, one day decades hence, be a Kim Kardashian Road Scholar “experience”?

“I think I can safely say that won’t happen,” Moses said.

ROAD SCHOLAR // www.roadscholar.org; (617) 426-7788

Photo: A hike in the Canadian Rockies is an example of the excursions offered by Road Scholar, an education-promoting travel service once called Elderhostel. (Courtesy Eileen Knesper/Road Scholar)

Death Valley In Winter: Perhaps The Only Sane Time To Visit

By Sam McManis, The Sacramento Bee (TNS)

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — High noon at Badwater basin, and here I am wearing a light fleece coat and cursing it because, well, it’s not my high-end, breathable Gore-Tex rain jacket, hanging uselessly back home in the hallway closet.

Yes, it’s raining in Death Valley. This never happens. Oh, all right, they do get a tiny measure of precipitation here in this famously parched desert that spans 5,270 square miles — a whopping 1.9 inches a year. Mostly, whatever falls from the sky is slurped right up by the thirsty soil, making nary a significant puddle, yet, coming in winter like this abbreviated shower, helps the always-iffy prospects for a hearty spring wildflower bloom into being.

But let’s not get carried away with this meteorological anomaly: no torrential downpour, no Old Testament gully gusher, only enough to make drivers turn the wipers to “intermittent.”

For those who’ve visited here only at the height of summer — or heck, even as early as April — this late January drizzle is such a stark contrast to the kiln that usually is the valley floor, where triple-digit readings are the norm by lunchtime. You’d never think you’d actually need to use a furnace at the Furnace Creek Resort, but the woman in front of me at check-in asked about central heating on this (brrr) 61-degree day, forecast to drop to an even more bone-chilling 47 overnight.

“Isn’t this amazing?” said Linda Slater, Death Valley’s chief interpretive ranger.

She hustled over to the information desk at the Furnace Creek visitors center and looked up this season’s rainfall total: 0.16 inches.

“It seems like a lot out there today, though, huh?” she said. “We did have some rain in the beginning of December, but nothing more until (today).”

For the record, in that 24-hour period, the official weather station at Furnace Creek registered 0.26 inches of rainfall; it was the talk of the visitors center. In fact, in an amusing exhibit at the attached museum, tourists are asked to write on Post-it notes, “Where are you from and how is Death Valley different?” One response, in large letters slanting to the right, as if scribbled in annoyance: “From Seattle — Wasn’t raining there when we left. Rained here instead. Oh well.”

There are two ways to look at a Death Valley rainy day: either the proverbial rain bucket’s half-full, or half-empty.

Thinking positively, the landscape takes on a brooding, almost vulnerable presence, far removed from the fiery malevolence of summer. Up at the geologic paint-swatch that is Artist’s Palette, looming above Badwater basin, the rough volcanic rock and multi-hued mineral deposits are so slick they look as if someone just slathered on a fresh glossy coat. Below, in the salt-encrusted basin, you can see the drops make dark brown dots in the granular surface before fading, like time-lapse photography, in front of your eyes, and you wonder if the briny earth there remembers that 4,000 years ago — a mere geologic eye blink, after all — that it was a lake.

Thinking negatively, hitting you like a drop of barometric pressure that led to this rain, you feel the same letdown you might experience when you get to see a handsome actor in person and find his skin is pockmarked by acne scars and discover he’s wearing lifts in his shoes. The landscape is not the vivid eye candy you expected to see, in fact, what you did see when Googling “Artist’s Palette” before the trip. In the overcast and sprinkles, all seems slightly washed out, the usually rutilant serrated hillsides almost a sickly pastel, the greens and yellow tinge of the deep fissures reduced to varying shades of beige. Nary a glimmer, either, of Badwater’s celebrated brilliant winter sunset, the Panamint Mountains in the distance hiding behind thick cloud cover.

Death Valley’s visitors on this day — many of whom, I notice with self-laceration, have thought ahead and brought rain coats — seemed a little befuddled but entirely undeterred. Cameras still clicked mightily, no one bemoaning the lack of vivacity in the images before posting to Snapchat. Sturdy hiking poles went right on plunging into the slightly sticky silt and clay on the popular Golden Canyon Trail heading to Red Cathedral, which, though not quite so brilliant as the name implies on this day, were still Crayola-like sharp. Twelve miles up Dante’s View, 5,000 feet above the basin, people still gamely got out of their cars and gazed down on the view, however obscured.

I mean, what else can you do? You can’t Photoshop nature, can you?

Remember this, too: That scrim of moisture on your brow has come from misty rain, not ever-accumulating beads of sweat from baking in the summer heat. Always a good thing, in my book.

There is, after all, a large subset of Death Valley visitors who have a perfectly pleasant time visiting here in winter, the so-called off-peak season. While March and August are reportedly the most popular months among the park’s 1 million annual visitors — the first because of spring break (“All the college kids,” Slater said) and the second because some off-hinged folks crave intense heat (“Especially the Germans,” Slater said) — some make it a point to visit in December, January and February, before the thermometer and tourists rise precipitously.

“Of course, I’ve always known it gets hot here,” said Chris Fitzpatrick, a tourist from Wisconsin, quite comfortable in a cardigan sweater on the observation deck at Badwater. “My husband, Bob, was laughing because he said the name, Death Valley, doesn’t really draw you here. This is a good time to come.”

“I’ve been here in May before,” Ali Barnes, her friend, interjected. “That’s definitely the latest I’d come. It was over 100 then, yeah.”

“That is a little scary,” Fitzpatrick added. “There was a story, wasn’t there, recently about a lady who went through here in summer with their kid, and she didn’t have water along and, you know what happened. Oh, it was terrible.”

“But I wasn’t expecting rain,” Barnes said. “It’s something different. I’ve been here five times. First time it’s rained. Wintertime, well, today the sun’s not really shining, but when we’ve come out in winter before, the angle of the sunlight, because it’s such a low angle, is so much more dramatic than the one time I was here in May. Then, it was hot and little miserable. (In May) you had this real tall, direct sunlight. No thanks. The low angle of the winter sun makes the rocks shimmer, the definition pops out.”

The winter visitor does, indeed, have some advantages without having to endure sweat-lodge conditions. Hiking is not limited to mornings. Mid-afternoon saw the parking area near the popular Mosaic Canyon Trail, hard by Stovepipe Wells Village, packed, as was an area dotted with shutterbugs nearby searching for “good light” while training their lenses on the Mesquite Dunes. People looped around the volcanic crater at Ubehebe without feeling the hot breath of phantom eruptions.

You don’t have to weigh yourself down with provisions like a survivalist, either, though rangers still recommend bringing plenty of water and maybe some electrolytes, even in cooler weather. Your car’s radiator will thank you, as well. It’s easier to get a reservation at either the Furnace Creek Inn or Ranch, or accommodations at Stovepipe Wells Village or Panamint Springs but, alas, you’ll still pay felonious prices for food (a three-topping pizza for $31; a chicken Caesar salad for $19) and gas ($3.47 a gallon).

It’s true that fewer people may visit in winter, but there seems to be more action. Maybe the extreme heat just encourages sloth, making even the 400-yard trek from your room at the Furnace Creek Ranch to the on-site Borax Museum an act of Olympian toil and testament to personal bravery. Not so in milder days. I passed several pelotons of cyclists whirring like a swarm of bees down Highway 190 and along Badwater Road. More than a few runners were chugging along the soft shoulder, too, without having to wear silly white heat-resistant suits those crazy Badwater Ultramarathon participants do so they aren’t grilled to perfection in the late July broiler. The horses rented out at the Furnace Creek Corral appeared energized, not enervated.

“I think this is the only time in 2015 it’s going to rain right here right now,” said David Walker, of White Plains, Md., strolling the basin (sans jacket, I might add) with his wife, Karin. “We came for the day from (Las) Vegas (a 2-hour drive), and we knew it was going to be rainy all day there so figured it’d be nice here. But I’m OK with it.”

The late January rain also augurs a fertile, if still too brief, wildflower season coming very soon, perhaps as early as late February, Slater said.

“Actually, February is the month,” she said. “The flower season here starts earlier than (at) other desert parks. If it gets real hot in March, then the flowers wilt and droop. That’s happened before. It all depends on the weather, of course. If it stays reasonably cool in March, then the flower season will last. Remember, (the flowers) move up in elevation. If you were to go to Telescope Peak (11,049 feet) or Mahogany Flats (8,133 feet) in the summer, you’ll still see the flowers up there.

“This rain (in late January) may even do something by tomorrow. You may see all these little sprouts shoot up, with this rain — maybe.”

The only reason flowers can take root and sprout in such a harsh milieu is that they are annuals, meaning they bloom for one growing season, the seeds using the modicum of rainfall to flourish briefly before bowing down. They come in yellow, pink, red and pale blue to purple, everything from the woolly daisy to gravel ghosts to Mojave aster. (Every Friday, the park’s Facebook page updates bloom sightings, Slater said.) Death Valley veterans still talk about the so-called “Super Bloom” of 2005, when above-normal rain brought out scores of photographers, not to mention droves of butterflies, hummingbirds and bees.

Last winter? Meh. Not so much.

Amateur — and professional — photographers have more than just flowers to focus on. There are those sublime winter sunsets (weather permitting) and a variety of critters hanging out at different elevations. Snails and cottonball pupfish struggle to survive on the salt flats, snakes and kangaroo rats around the sand dunes and valley floor, desert tortoise, fringe-toed lizards and bobcats at high elevations. Tour vans from outfits with names such as Aperture Academy pull over seemingly every few miles for shutterbugs to capture the sublime color contrast between landscape and blooms.

No matter the season, you have to go searching for many desert creatures (though doesn’t it always seem rattlesnakes will seek you out?), but they can be found if you’re willing to stray from the familiar, i.e., paved, path. Slater and others recommend lesser-known trail offshoots for those seeking a wilder, as well as a quieter, nature experience.

“The thing about Death Valley,” she said, “is that it’s so big that, if you want to get away from crowds, you can get away. I’ve been here on a Presidents Day weekend, and it’s been very busy. But I can find another canyon to walk in where I won’t see a soul. I did one recently. If you go to the west side of Titus Canyon (northeast, in the Grapevine Mountains, on the way to Scotty’s Castle), there’s a trailhead for Fall Canyon. Lots of folks hike there. But I went into the next one over (Red Wall Canyon) and there was nobody there. Maybe it’s not as pretty as Fall Canyon, but it was very peaceful.”

© 2015 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Image: For those who venture up within Death Valley National Park, vistas unfold of the mountain ranges (including Panamint and Amargosa) that run through it. (Jay Mather/Sacramento Bee/TNS)