A Trip To Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf
Santa Fe, NM

Words & Photos by J. Picard

You've probably heard of Meow Wolf. Those two words are typically used in a sentence alongside words like "incredible," "psychedelic," "stunning" and "indescribable." I reflected on how to describe our experience as I picked up the pieces of my mind in a parking lot on a Sunday around sunset in Santa Fe, NM. "I have to tell people about this place. But how...?" My wife Carly, who had been encouraging the conversation to head south from Colorado suggested we go sit on the patio of a brewery just a few blocks away to collect ourselves. We sat across from one another sampling a variety of craft brews, laughing about the alternate reality that we had just crawled into and managed to crawl out of. We had been to a variety of art museums, music festivals, Burning Man... but this was something different. This was a complete playground for the mind, funded by none other than George R.R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones. We bought the tickets, heightened our experience and walked down a dark hallway where we were greeted by a video letting us know that we were being watched. We opened the door and on the other side, "The House of Eternal Return."

The door shut behind us as we stood in what felt like the outdoors in front of a large Victorian house. Adjacent to us was a lamp post and a mailbox. As our "enhancements" kicked in, we made little sense of the underlying plot. We approached the porch and could see into the house where other guests were digging into the experience. Glancing down passing through the threshold, a door mat read "beyond here there be dragons." Inside and to our left there was a small front room with a chair and an easel and people sorting through what felt like clues. To our right was a large open living room with a couch, chair and coffee table... all of the normal furnishings. In the corner sat a young man in a white coat, which signified a staffer. Through the living room was the dining room that output an eerie vibe. For instance, the wainscoting was taking on a wavy shape and the chandelier was melting as if were in a Salvador Dali painting. I pulled out the chair at the head of the table and sat down triggering the lights to flicker and dim as a bassy, bottoms out noise overtook the room. We hadn't been in the house more than a couple of minutes and shit was getting weird. Behind me a face appeared in the mirror.

We sauntered through the kitchen knowing full well that we would return to explore the room and headed upstairs past photos of the fictional family, who at the moment felt real, immersed in their home among their belongings. We passed a group of guests hard at work on some sort of puzzle on a computer. We entered a child's room that had bunk beds, art projects, toys, a model of a woolly mammoth and everything else that would be found in a kid's room. I glanced out the front window and the bright light of what appeared to be the moon glowed across my face. Carly was going through different items on a book shelf. It felt weird to be going through someone's room, but little did we know how weird it was about to get. I walked across the room and opened the closet door to reveal a magical land. I grabbed Carly's hand and pulled her in.

The best way to describe what we experienced was like a sort of fairy land with glowing vegetation and vibrant colors surrounding us. We proceeded down a corridor which opened up into a glowing green room. Down below people were playing the neon pink rib cage of what appeared to be an enhanced woolly mammoth from the small child's model in the room. This was our first foray into the alternate realm and it was a dead end. We turned around and headed back through the closet door into the normality of the room. Immediately, I wanted to go back, so we continued down the hallway of the house to another room. This time it seemed it was the room of an older, maybe college level student, with more science oriented objects. A group of people were working on some sort of audio device, as they listened to headphones and made adjustments to some sort of science project. The room felt a little crowded so I made my way towards a bookshelf that must open, right? Indeed it did and we were on our way into a circular room that felt like the inside of a spaceship with LED lights streaking down the ceiling. We sat briefly and then continued through another door into the room of another teen. By the looks of it, it was a girls room with posters of 90's kid idols hanging on the wall. I pulled the curtains back and it revealed an insane scene of colorful chaos on the other side of the wall.

We exited the room and squeezed through a small crack into a small space with mirrors, lights and an upright piano. We continued down a dark hall until we realized that we were in a closet alongside hangers and shirts. We opened the door and re-entered the room in which we had just left through the bookcase. And though it felt like forever since we had been in that room, the people looked at us surprised as we exited the closet and then looked over their shoulders at the shelf. It was pure madness and we had yet to truly dive in. Across the hall we entered the bathroom. The floor rippled like waves of water. We glanced at the clawfoot tub and pulled back the curtain to nothing out of the ordinary. I opened the medicine cabinet to find a never ending hole.

Back downstairs in the living room an odd glow emitted from the fire place, so of course, we climbed through. On the other side we found ourselves in the room of the glowing mammoth skeleton, so we grabbed mallets and began to play its ribs, which were very responsive. After losing track of time, we climbed back into the living room where the TV was showing static and entered the kitchen where all seemed semi-normal. Around the corner we located the famous washing machine and I opened it up and dove in head first. Inside was a room of mirrors and flashing blue lights. I rolled out of a side door into a full on experience. There were lights, trees, owls, stuffed animals, TVs, LEDs and an overwhelming Dr. Seuss feel. We wandered aimlessly, satisfied, fulfilled. I crawled into another small space and opened a triangular door which came out from under the stars back in the house. A couple looked at us puzzled and then crawled through the same door that we came out of, trading realities. The complexity of the exhibit hit me. All of the passageways and intertwining of different realities was staggering, especially in our state of mind.

We returned to the kitchen where Carly rummaged through the cupboards before opening the fridge, which shined an almost blinding white light. We walked into the appliance and the fridge door closed behind us. We made our way down a white hallway and into a room with a sign on the wall that read "Bermuda Portals, your gateway to the multiverse." It felt like a scene out of Star Trek or Star Wars. A hologram of a woman on a console in the center of the room directed us to room 4. We exited the room into a wrap around hallway and put our hand on a panel with a hand print, clearly marked to open a door. Through it was not room 4, the door opened and in we walked to a small glowing red room. Our eyes adjusted and we were standing in an outdoorscape with glowing blue cactus in front of a small camper trailer. We wandered in and sat at the table. In the windows were scenes of expansive deserts and arches. Carly turned the dial on the radio and the station playing in the camper changed.

We passed through a small opening into a room with carpet all over everything and a couch that appeared to be melting into the ground. Around the corner and we were fully engulfed in psychedelia. We crawled in and out of openings and up stairs to the upper level where it felt like we were walking among the tree tops. We came upon a group of people with a kid in front of a bunch of colorful, illuminated squares. The kid had taken a photo of some pictures hanging on the wall in the house and they were using it as a guide or key to change the colors of squares with corresponding shapes on the squares to match the photo. When all of the squares were correct, the lights went out and came back in full color with another clue indicating a number sequence. The kid and his father then took the code and entered it into a safe on the wall. Though a white coat confirmed the code was correct, she also confirmed that the safe was not operational at current. Though it was disappointing, it eluded to more happening than just the flashing lights.

Just when we thought we must have seen all there is to see we would find a door, a ladder or an opening to crawl through into a whole new world of chaos. In the middle of it all we found a four hundred person venue, surrounded by stimuli. We stumbled into a dark room with a smoke machine and lasers from floor to ceiling. We ran our hands through the lasers and they acted as a harp. After that we found an unmarked door that led us into a colorful room with animal heads constructed of colorful shapes hung on the wall. Just outside of that room we found an all white room with a giant white rabbit staring down at us from the upper corner of the room. We wandered inside of the rabbit and when we came out there was an older couple, maybe in their 70's or 80's with a cane and a walker smiling at us. It must have been crazy to live through all that they had lived through to end up at a place like Meow Wolf.

At some point we wandered out, through the gift shop to the concession area where we bought beers and sat at a table in front of an enormous tree designed by Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, titled "The King's Mouth." The tree was constructed with silver balloons, mylar and foil and had a face with an open mouth and rubber tongue protruding onto the floor, as well as a solid backstory. Carly climbed in and lights started streaming down ropes inside of the tree. It was bright in the lobby area and as I took the last couple of sips of my pale ale, I got excited to step back inside. We headed back down the dark hallway, through the door and into the front yard of "The House of Eternal Return." As it was later in the day on a Sunday, we had the place almost all to ourselves and we took our time with wide eyes. We entered the house and it was oddly quiet. I could hear guests upstairs and there was a white coat sitting in the chair in the living room, but that was about it. We did a deeper scan of the items on the desks, tables and fridge and took our time taking in the artistic embellishments of the house itself. It was clear that there was something deeper going on. There was the obvious story line, as well as what seemed to be clues... everywhere.

After poking around for a bit on the main floor, we made our way into the fridge and back to the portals where we explored additional rooms that we had missed prior and tried to paint as complete a picture of the experience for our minds. After another hour or so of discovery and enjoyable repetition, we returned to the gift shop, feeling out of it from all of the stimulation. We exited Meow Wolf and stood in the parking lot, catching the tail end of daylight and trying to sort our next move. No matter where the path lead from here: To the brewery, to our hotel, back to Colorado... It would definitely bring us back to Sante Fe's (and maybe the country's) most impressive immersive art dream. Stay tuned for Meow Wolf Las Vegas in 2019 and Meow Wolf Denver in 2020! In the meantime, head south to Santa Fe...



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