Meow Wolf: Choose Your Own Adventure

See the first review in our Meow Wolf series here: Meow Wolf: I Just Don’t Get It

I woke up the morning Trickster, ZymologistBob, and I were to take our pilgrimage to Santa Fe for Meow Wolf with high spirits.

I do not use the world “pilgrimage” lightly; since its opening in 2015, the installation has garnered astonishment, revere, and, from all I had heard and read, unparalleled wonder among the millions who have wandered through it. Meow Wolf has truly become a New Mexican rite of passage, especially, in my opinion, because it usually involves a commute (if not an outright journey), which tends to become an equally memorable facet of any experience. Similarly, I think the wonder of Meow Wolf is further strengthened by its rather unusual location in the national, cultural context. Here stands a diamond in the rough that triumphantly shouts New Mexico is becoming on par—nay, competitive with—places like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington in terms of cerebral uniqueness that for once has nothing to do with our history, but rather, and finally, the contemporary. It is a monument to us moving forward rather than us perpetually finding our identity in looking back.

About halfway to Santa Fe, we saw a billboard: a hodgepodge of colors, shapes, and lettering reminiscent of the 1980s. It just said “Meow Wolf.” No description. No indication of how many more miles left or which exit to take. We did not know it at the time, but this was outstanding foreshadowing.

After parking behind an auto repair shop on a side street a block and a half away (be prepared for this if you don’t arrive before or by the time doors open), it was then a literal uphill battle to the abandoned-bowling-alley-turned-art-space. About half an hour in line later, we made it inside the foyer, which included paintings of Spirograph-like designs and shellfish. Inching a bit more through the lobby and to the cashiers, we paid the $16 entry fee (the reduced price for NM residents) and went in.

My high spirits remained, and we were determined to “solve the great mystery” of the House of Eternal Return. Trickster was advised that we “start at the mailbox.” After shuffling through its contents of sympathy cards, we took a mental note of their who, what, when, where, and why, and climbed the porch steps to enter the House’s living room through the front door.

And it was reminiscent of the parties my roommates used to hold when I was an undergrad sharing a 2-story house near campus with 5 guys.

I did not last 3 months in that house (a testament more to myself and my reserve). And I did not last 3 minutes in the living room of the House of Eternal Return.

The sounds and the smells of overcrowding were enough to make me abandon my role as sleuth and instead divert to casual observer.

For me personally, it was just too crowded, although I understand some have no problem with that. However, as someone who also has a slight aversion to (and fear) of children, it was even more overwhelming; we were smack dab in the middle of the Winter Break, after all. So rather than try to read through the photo albums, newspapers, and books that no doubt had more clues, we hightailed it through the fireplace to the mammoth-skeleton xylophone. (No, I am not the last recipient in a game of Telephone.)

After the visual stimulation had worn off, though, I found myself facing the same issue once more. There were too many people (i.e., children) slamming the mammoth’s musical ribcage, which both gave me the gist of what it did and made me ready to move on to the next exhibit as soon as possible.

Thus was our method for experiencing the rest of Meow Wolf, hastily absorbing the essentials of any given room before moving on. We had gone through all of the installation in slightly over an hour this way: roughly a third of the time folks usually spend there.

I must give credit to Meow Wolf’s element of surprise. For example, I had momentarily forgotten the installation is supposed to take place within one house; the mammoth led us to a spaceship which led us to a forest which led us to a bridge which led us to a teenage girl’s bedroom on the second story.

Lanterns light the way at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.
Lanterns light the way at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.

There is just enough order to give method to the madness, and there is just enough madness in the order to keep you interested.

I think to describe any particularly noteworthy exhibit or exhibits is fruitless, for what is noteworthy to me was not to [Trickster], was not to [ZymologistBob], and was not to any other patron. I think the Meow Wolf experience is a self-determining industry.

What you derive from it is based on your own experience, not just within the space, but also as the word also means your identity shaped by a collection of your memories up to that point. Perhaps this means, then, that my overall “It was OK” attitude speaks only to my own self: an overstimulated and introverted millennial whose dog had just died.

I did have one memorable experience, however. December brought a lot of personal hardship for me. When we came across a camper that had a tarot card reader inside it (this is apparently a regular thing, by the way), I was eager to withstand the 25-minute wait in line to see her. I was given lots of advice about my job, which was eerily spot-on (even if I was desperate for her to give me any direction in the personal realm instead). Perhaps I also enjoyed it so much because it was my first and only opportunity for me to enjoy Meow Wolf more privately (sort of…people are welcome to walk through the camper, and many stop to witness your reading).

Personally, I will not be among the droves of people who swear Meow Wolf is the most incredible, life-changing thing they have ever seen. However, as with any piece of art, maybe that is just my own interpretation of it. Like its billboard, you cannot go with any pre-determined needs. For me, my needs unfortunately were a bit more personal, if not outrageous: I was just hoping for fewer than 950 people during a time everyone was on Christmas vacation and no doubt had visiting friends and family they needed to entertain as well as their own children. Thus, I would recommend it at least be checked out once, but ideally on a weekday and as close to opening hour as possible.

However, I will always appreciate something that is so essentially part of New Mexico’s identity now that the day a child pooped in an exhibit toilet there, it made headlines across the state for two days.

Visit the Meow Wolf official site for hours, directions, and ticket pricing. Please let us know if you attend and have a life-altering experience!

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