Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return art installation in Santa Fe, New Mexico is one not to be missed. It’s like an immersive, trippy art experiment combined with a playground suitable for children or adults, united with an Alice-in-Wonderland-like acid trip and sprinkled with some escape room. All integrated with an appropriate amount of funny. But, with tickets costing $40 apiece, and with many changes to the installation as a result of COVID, it begs the question: Is it worth going to Meow Wolf during COVID?

Aaron Owen at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM

AUTHOR

Kristen Cummings

CATEGORY

Quirky & Cool, Kids & Family

DESTINATION

New Mexico

POSTED ON

September 5, 2021

A couple years ago, the hubs, Jason, and I went to Meow Wolf for the first time when driving through Santa Fe, New Mexico on our way back to Colorado from Havasu Falls. We went in curious and not knowing a ton about it, but had an open mind and only moderate expectations. The experience was more than we could have hoped, and I struggle to even write about it because it was one of those “had to be there” kind of activities. No description can do the actual experience justice.

In April 2021, I decided to take my 19-year-old son, Aaron, to Meow Wolf. We made a weekend out of it, since it was a seven-hour drive from our home. Aaron graduated from high school during quarantine. I told him that as soon as Meow Wolf opened back up, I would take him for a graduation present. April 2021 was when we could finally go. But, the pandemic had changed the museum in several ways.

What is Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return?

Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, at its core, is an art museum. Nobody finds an art museum more boring than I do, I assure you, so don’t let that turn you off. It’s basically an art museum without rules. The artists didn’t have rules when creating and the visitors don’t have rules when experiencing it. Want to touch everything? Go ahead. Want to fully immerse yourself in the mysterious storyline and try to solve the riddle? Knock yourself out. Want to climb around and play? You can. Want to sit quietly and just observe? That’s ok, too. 

The museum starts in the front yard of a large house. Nothing unusual about it (except, of course, that there is a large, life-size house inside of a museum.) Entering the house, you can explore the living room, kitchen, laundry room, or go upstairs to explore some bedrooms. In each room there are clues about the Selig family who once resided there, and have now disappeared. If solving this mystery interests you, you can spend hours reading through files and journals, clicking through computer files, or thumbing through photos, hand-written letters and newspaper articles. This aspect of the installation feels similar to an escape room, and the storyline is reminiscent of the Netflix series Stranger Things.

Want to touch everything? Go ahead. Want to fully immerse yourself in the mysterious storyline and try to solve the riddle? Knock yourself out. Want to climb around and play? You can. Want to sit quietly and just observe? That’s ok, too.

The more you explore the house, the more odd things you find, until, at some point, you are spit out into another dimension. This may happen because you walked through the refrigerator, or entered through a clothes dryer. Or maybe found a moving wall.  This dimension is one that is colorful, strange and mind-bending. One with no rules. A world that is oozing with creativity and inspiration and awe. This is where the art and fun really begin. 

House of Eternal Return boasts 70 rooms of art, each completely different from each other. Guests are encouraged to explore them in any order or any way that they want, and are also encouraged to touch and interact with the art. There are treehouses, a treetop retro camper, a bus turned on its backside to be experienced laying down, mirror rooms, lazer rooms, music rooms, recycled trash turned into beautiful mosaics, dinosaur bones in the arctic that have musical instrument rib cages, hamsters appearing in strange places… you get the idea. And those are just the things that can be put into words.

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Is it worth going to Meow Wolf a second time, or is once enough?

The awe and wonder that someone feels when going to Meow Wolf for the first time is hard to beat, so I wondered whether it would even be fun going a second time. I will say it is worth going a second time! First, it was fun to go with someone who had never been, to watch them explore and experience it for the first time. I had told Aaron all about it, and showed him photos, but it’s not the same as him seeing it in person.

Second, there was an entire wing of the museum that my husband and I never found when we were there the first time. We literally missed about an eighth of the museum and had no idea. I was so excited to find these new rooms, that they were worth the price of admission themselves. Meow Wolf also makes updates to some of the rooms periodically, so there is almost always something new to discover.

Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return - Aaron Owen in the Aquarium room
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I also found when I went there the first time, that there was so much to take in and see, that I was doing it on a macro level. It can be joyfully overwhelming, in fact. But, the second time I looked at the closer details, the small nuances, and found that there was even more to see that I had just walked past the first time. So, hands down, it is worth going a second time. And probably worth returning every couple years at least.

What COVID-19 precautions are Meow Wolf taking?

Of course, Meow Wolf is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like most businesses. But, they have plenty of health and sanitation protocols in place to keep guests safe:

  • Everyone over the age of four is required to wear a mask (no gaiters or bandanas)
  • Vaccines are required for concerts and special events at Meow Wolf (but not the installation)
  • No food or drinks are allowed in the art installation 
  • Extensive cleaning and sanitation, upgraded HVAC filters, and hand sanitizer throughout the installation
  • CDC and local health department guidelines are being followed, and their regulations will change as needed to stay compliant
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What changes were most noticeable at Meow Wolf as a visitor?

Less Tickets Sold

The first most noticeable thing is restricted ticket sales. Gone are the days of showing up on a whim and buying a ticket. There are fewer ticket sales to follow occupancy requirements, which means the tickets sell out faster and advanced tickets are a must. This could be a good thing because it means sharing the installation with fewer people, right? However, there weren’t noticeably fewer people and it still seemed pretty darn busy to me.

Aaron Owen at a less crowded Meow Wolf during COVID

Missing Props

The next most noticeable change was that a lot of the props were missing from the inside of the house. You used to be able to dig through files, photos, journals and books belonging to the fictional family of the house. Those have largely been replaced by QR codes that will pull up a website with those artifacts on your phone’s web browser. It’s a creative work around, but definitely not the same. Other artifacts were wrapped in plastic and in plastic tubs that are easier to wash than the originals. It took away from the aesthetics, but I preferred that over QR codes.

Missing Props at Meow Wolf during COVID

Closed-Off Sections

Some things were completely closed off to prevent the spread of COVID. The most noticeable and disappointing thing was that the iconic clothes dryer that you used to be able to go inside to take a tunnel slide to another realm was off limits. Clear plexiglass blocked the slide, making it an art piece instead of a cool, surprising portal to the “other side”. I get it: they don’t want people going down the slide, smearing their cooties down the sides, and then having other people ride the cootie-slide. It makes total sense, it just was a bummer.

Before and During COVID - Meow Wolf dryer is closed

Small Rooms Limited to One Group at a Time

There are some small music rooms, mirror rooms, and puzzle rooms that pre-COVID as many people, namely teens and kids, as possible would cram in, throwin’ elbows, to touch all the buttons. Now these rooms are limited to one family or group at a time. This means some of the rooms had a line to wait for our turn, but once we were in, we could enjoy it in peace and at our own pace. I was a fan of this idea.

One group allowed in small rooms at a time during covid at meow wolf

Must be Masked for all those Wild Selfies

Masks are absolutely mandatory for anyone over four years old, and they cannot be removed under any circumstances. There are staff members lurking in hidey-spots to make sure this rule is being followed. Meow Wolf is an Instagram Selfie Haven, so for people wanting to have some cool maskless pics, that’s not going to be an option for the foreseeable future, even with vaccinations.

Kristen Cummings and Aaron Owen masked selfie at Meow Wolf
Kristen Cummings and Aaron Owen masked selfie at Meow Wolf

Was it worth going to Meow Wolf during COVID, and would I return to The House of Eternal Return?

I am grateful that Meow Wolf was able to rework some of its installations to make it more COVID-friendly. I think if I had never been before, and didn’t know how it was in the “olden days”, I would have had an amazing experience and not missed anything. So, I highly recommend going to Meow Wolf during COVID if it’s your first time.  

But, with missing props and especially a closed down clothes dryer slide, I will admit my heart hurt a little with disappointment. I think for those who have been to Meow Wolf before, you will find some of the changes innovative (like instead of using a hand to open doors to different realms, there’s an elbow button!). But, some of the innovations will feel lame, like a QR code instead of a pile of newspapers.

What is next for Meow Wolf?

Omega Mart is a Meow Wolf installation in Las Vegas, Nevada that opened in February 2021. I have not yet been, but I would love to go in the next year or two. It is grocery-store themed, and the grocery store is full of quirky and funny items before you go to the other “realm”. I have not yet been to this Meow Wolf, but I’m hoping to take the family within the next year. If you want to hear about that trip subscribe to my email list for updates when that happens.

Convergence Station is their newest exhibition, and it opened in Denver in September 2021. You better believe that I was there within the first couple of days so that I could report back to you on whether it was as good as House of Eternal Return! Click here for the full report!

Beyond that, Meow Wolf has been pretty tight-lipped about where the next location will be, after recently pulling out of planned projects in Phoenix, Arizona and Washington D.C.

Because Omega Mart and Convergence Station were designed and opened during COVID, I believe COVID considerations would have been worked into the design, and the experience not impacted. And, if they had originally had other ideas pre-COVID, well, I guess we will just never know that!

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