Meeting Meow Wolf: two doses deep in the heart of The House of Eternal Return

Appeared on therooster.com on July 23, 2018

by Juan Wilder


It isn’t every day one gets to eat acid on the bridge of a spaceship, I thought, passing the second tab to my tongue and glancing around. But could there be a better place? Bright LED lights illuminated the saucer’s interior, casting glistening luster into the unknowable blackness beyond. Queer vibrations hovered all around.

Things had certainly already begun to feel strange; and they were about to get a lot stranger. By my estimates, we had about twenty minutes before that second dose warped us into hyperweirdness – my professional territory.  

“Buckle up,” I thought aloud. The surreal impressions of Meow Wolf were about to get real. 

When I had agreed to this freak adventure into the heart of the Land of Enchantment, I had known next to nothing about Meow Wolf. Intentionally. I didn’t want too clear of a picture – didn’t want any expectations or standards for fear that they might not be lived up to – and so, I kept myself as blind as possible to the impending exhibition. I knew that it was some kind of unconventional interactive art thing that was causing a lot of excitement. I knew Denver was soon to get one. I knew there would be music, dancing and exploration.

And I knew there would be LSD. 

It was not an opportunity that I could easily pass up. And, in fact, it was something I felt obligated as a journalist to investigate. What was this strange Southwestern phenomenon? Why were people so enthralled with this collective? And what was it going to be like when the drugs took hold 

These were questions I was bent on answering when we shoved off from Denver – not only for myself, but for the world at large – for you, dear readers. I was going to get a handle on The Truth. Whatever the cost. It was my mission.

Our journey to Santa Fe was long and bizarre. A seven-hour drive with two friends and my girlfriend that landed us in an Air B&B owned and operated by a hoarder shaman lunatic named David, who’s clusterfuck home was so full of clocks, tapestries, decorated cow skulls, crystals, model trains, dust, dolls and general dishevelment that you could hardly move around without jostling one kind of junk or another. It was not a normal (or even legal) situation – and yet, somehow, it was also perfect for what we’d come for.

We arrived at midnight on Friday night. Saturday day we explored downtown Santa Fe, spending too much money on jinxed Indian jewelry, leather goods and Mexican food before it was 9:00 PM – time for the show. Time for the moment of truth.

Which came sober. When we finally made it inside of the massive warehouse-like structure of Meow Wolf, walking through the lobby area where we presented our tickets, down the dark hallway beyond and into the House of Eternal Return, the acid had not yet kicked in. This was an accident. But it turned out to be a very fortunate one. Because, in the thirty minutes before that first tab took hold, me and my curious troupe of wanderers had time to explore the place uninfluenced by any strange illegal substances. 

That initial walkthrough was cool. There were rooms with fuzzy walls and furniture (a reference to Russel Brand’s “Stroke the Fuzzy Walls”, no doubt), rooms painted to kind of look like a cartoon. Rooms that looked like bedrooms, a dancefloor that was dark and only just beginning to fill up, rooms covered in faces, cavernous rooms, tiny rooms, natural looking rooms and futuristic techy looking rooms. 

Certainly, it was unique. But had it been worth the trip? I wondered, feeling a tinge of disappointment. This place was fun, no doubt. And it was easy to tell that a lot of work had gone into it. But I couldn’t see the magic. 

Not yet, at least.

Fearful that things weren’t getting weird enough fast enough, one of my compatriots, a doctor of the law, suggested more drugs. I agreed and we sought some privacy where we could swallow them in peace. Which led us to the spaceship.

We invaded it, circled around back of the saucer, reclined into the seats and the good doctor distributed the second round of doses. I knew, staring down at that red little square of blotter paper in my palm, that this ship was about to take off – perhaps into uncharted territory.

“Just a reminder, no drug use on the premises.” A medical official told me as I stepped out of that cosmic vehicle.

I winked at him, sucking merrily on my dose. Tell that to the bartender slinging booze in the lobby, I thought. Chemicals are chemicals.

I was glad for that man, though. Glad he was there. Because, even though we had unwittingly disobeyed that rule, it was important he was there to enforce it. If it weren’t for that silicon gloved string bean poking his head into dark rooms and warning people against it, a place like Meow Wolf could quickly decay into a drug den – and not all drugs are as friendly as LSD, or even alcohol.

We resumed our aimless exploration, but we were no longer at the helm of our route. Some new and inexplicable force seemed to be driving us from one room to the next, moving us where we needed to be moved, situating our bodies and our minds and telling us when it was time to move on. It didn’t feel like an inanimate art collective any longer. No. It felt more like a living creature – like we were being slowly digested by some fantastic beast that had swallowed us whole and would not set us free until it had had its way with our minds.  

That place suddenly made total sense to me. The “fuzzy wall room” was no longer covered in static clumps of colored cotton – but in wiggling, wall mounted gardens of pastel organisms, breathing and gesticulating, waving in some unfelt breeze, thriving in the light of my imagination. The cartoon room no longer looked like a cartoon, but actually felt like being inside of one. The bedrooms were full of mysteries, strange documents and computer programs that whispered of entities in the bleak black of mother space. The faces room turned and spun like a hurricane, cycling through doodled expressions that seemed endless and damned. People poured out of the walls and disappeared into unknown crevices.

We found hidden rooms too. Rooms through fireplace hearths. Chapels that changed form and color and revealed one layer of truth after the next in lucid sliding realities – reds that showed faces, greens that revealed jungles, blues that pierced your mind with vividness and spun the wall mounted paintings into whirlpools of neon madness. There was a room that was totally empty and pitch black save for a red laser harp that glowed amid the smoke like some kind of alien instrument. Twaaang, it rang, as people strummed its plasmic strings. Ting, briiiiing, thrrrrong!

Hours went by. And, I began to realize how extraordinary that art collective is. Meow Wolf seems to have been engineered for the psychedelic state of mind – for psychonautic exploration. I began to understand it as a new form of art, a large scale disreality crafted from the inside out, for people with unhinged imaginations to wander a world of weirdness; a place where the closer one looks, the more layers they find, the more intrigue they discover, the more detail that seems to emerge. 

Night became morning and still we wound and worked deeper and deeper into the entity, spiraling toward what felt like a center of some kind, toward what had to be The Edge, one room after the next, until, without warning, it spat us out confused and content into the parking lot out front.

The nocturnal sky glistened silently overhead and the still desert reached off in all directions. The silence sung, the darkness twinkled and fractal patterns spun on every surface, connecting starlight with sacred shapes. Trails followed everything that moved. 

Sweet holy motherfuck, I thought. There would be no sleep this night. The acid journey was far from finished. 

And indeed, when the sun finally rose, I was waiting for it outside in David’s chaotic yard, holding my girlfriend, watching the stars disappear above, listening to the morning song of a desert thrush. I wept in the beauty of that moment. It was too spectacular to bear.

I almost wept in the afternoon too, as the prospect of that daunting drive back to Colorado loomed before us. But it had to be done. And I had the help of 200 milligrams of edible cannabis gummy bears to get me through it. Which, I ate all at once with breakfast.

It was a reflective return. I stared out the window and thought for most of it – thought about the meaning of this weird and unnatural adventure; thought about Meow Wolf and what had transpired within those dark walls; thought about how on Earth I was going to write about it.

You do not need drugs to enjoy Meow Wolf, I decided, about 200 miles outside Santa Fe. Meow Wolf is incredible all on its own – just like any great art installation, museum or collection.

But the Meow Wolf experience is enhanced tremendously by psychedelics. That place works in perfect concert with the surreal frame of mind and a rebellious imagination. It’s like a book written in some strange and foreign hieroglyphs, an adventure story that you can’t quite fully grasp without the proper cipher.

I’m sure that’s not the image they want to put forth – but it’s The Truth. And that’s what I went there for in the first place.

Will Brendza