“This is new,” says Morgan moments before she opens the GE washer to reveal a portal to another dimension. The inside of the washer is filled with blue, sparkling lights. The tunnel is too small for an adult to enter, but just the right size for a curious child. As I wonder where the tunnel leads, or how it relates to “the event,” Morgan simply says “goodbye” and dives in head first. We don’t see her again for almost an hour.
For the second time in two years, we returned to Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, New Mexico. After our first visit to the art installation last year, my mind was so blown that I didn’t write much about it. It was difficult to whittle the experience down to less than several thousand words, or even make sense of the experience. My description of our trip to the house came off like the ravings of an insane person. I think I used to phrase “drug-fueled nightmare” multiple times while describing our visit.
Upon entering the House of Eternal Return (“the house”) you are entering a mystery, even though nobody tells you that. There’s a mailbox outside with some mail inside. One of the letters discusses “the event.” At that moment, you have a decision to make. You can spend the entire day enjoying the House for just what it is. It’s a weird, trippy, fun house kind of place. There are art displays and rooms to explore and lots of interactive “things” to discover. You will have a great time if all you do is walk and climb around and look at everything.
Or, you can spend the day trying to figure out what happened to the Pastore family.
Because the house feels so much like a real house, at least at first, it’s easy to forget to look at everything. Eventually you realize that everything inside the house is there for a reason. There are newspapers, family pictures, china cabinets, homework assignments stuck to the refrigerator with magnets, and more. Everything is there for a reason. It’s all part of the experience.
The house is so overwhelming that I think first-time visitors get distracted. While people were walking around yelling things like “the refrigerator leads to another dimension!” and “there’s a tiny man in the toilet!” Morgan and I sat down at the kitchen table and began digging through the history, and the mystery, of the home.
You could, in theory, spend days (weeks?) trying to put together the entire backstory. In one room there’s a computer with a dozen videos on a fake website. There are codes. There are papers. There are pictures. There are books — hundreds of books. There are potential clues everywhere… and again, you can have a blast the entire time and not even engage this level of the experience. Shortly after we lost Morgan to the clothes washer, Mason discovered that the fireplace led to a giant ice cave filled with a woolly mammoth’s skeleton, and off he went.
Along with day passes, Meow Wolf (the collective that built the House of Eternal Return) also sells year and lifetime passes. If I lived anywhere near Santa Fe I would definitely own one of those passes. I wanted to investigate every detail of every room, but there simply wasn’t time. And honestly, half of the enjoyment is watching other people enjoying some of the surprises for the first time. I could spend hours sitting in the fake kitchen, reading the fake newspaper and watching the look on people’s faces when they open the refrigerator…
If I’ve any complaint with the experience it’s that the house fills up quickly. There were things I wanted to contemplate and study that were simply impossible with excited kids running loose. I’d pay extra to attend an adults-only weekend, with more time to study each clue. There were a few puzzles and codes that we simply couldn’t tackle because too many people were waiting for their turn. If you go, go early.
Another thing we did this time was watch the videos. There are multiple video screens located throughout the experience. Some are longer than others. Some of them tell more of the story than others. None of them are numbered, so watching them in order is impossible.
If you do everything right, you’ll leave Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return with just enough information and curiosity to start forming new questions. The four of us compared notes during our ride back to the hotel. None of us saw exactly the same things. All of us have questions. None of us fully understand what happened in the house. All of us are ready to go back again.
My only other piece of advice — should you find yourself in a staring contest with a ten-foot-tall inter-dimensional snow owl, you might as well give up. That thing rarely blinks.