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Where Worlds Collide: Art, Mystery, and Narrative Describe the Meow Wolf Experience

Where Worlds Collide: Art, Mystery, and Narrative Describe the Meow Wolf Experience


Meow Wolf redefines what an art exhibit can be, offering fully interactive and immersive experiences across several states.

Meow Wolf’s name drew me in. I love the juxtaposition and contradiction built into such a simple phrase. I was asked several times by friends and family, what is Meow Wolf? I’m still not sure. After chasing its narrative across three states and spending hours in each exhibit, I can only hope to give you a brief glimpse into a seemingly infinite world.

My best stab at it, Meow Wolf is an interactive, immersive art exhibit with a narrative to uncover. It is a visual and auditory stimulus so intoxicating you need a moment before registering what your brain is experiencing. The longer you look and linger, the more is revealed. Lights shift, sounds change, and a story reveals itself piece by piece. Meow Wolf is a world built on prismatic colors and strangely familiar locations with undercurrents of unease and unanswered questions.

Making sense? Of course not. You need to visit to understand. Essentially, each Meow Wolf location starts off as something normal — a grocery store, an airport, or a family home — and presents a narrative to uncover and rooms to discover. Whether it’s reading through the newspapers scattered around the dining room or clicking through files in the corporate office, the deeper you look, the more there is.

Meow Wolf’s three locations — Santa Fe, Denver, and Las Vegas — span the West. The journey to all three is easier than expected. Santa Fe can be reached by car, and Las Vegas is just a cheap flight away. If you fly Frontier at the right time or risk it with Spirit, you can get to Vegas round trip for under $100.

Credit: Christopher DeVargas for Meow Wolf

Desert decadence on a budget 

Flying on a weekday budget flight was not the most glamorous way to enter Vegas.

The theme of this trip was something different. Art galleries are cool, museums are nice, amusement parks have a certain appeal, but Meow Wolf is something different altogether. I wanted my journey to reflect that. I have road tripped across the West most of my life, I had been to Las Vegas and Santa Fe half a dozen times. I wasn’t looking to sip frozen drinks on the Strip or buy turquoise jewelry from a lady on a rug.

I did Vegas a little differently than most — on a weekday, off the Strip, on a budget, and alone. I decided to forgo the Bellagio fountains and Elvis impersonators.

I stayed right on the corner of Fremont Street. Fremont may lack the impressive resort properties, but it is still lined with characters and vices much like you expect in Sin City. It’s also about half the cost to go out around here. No $25 rum and Cokes on this street.

Vegas has a more artsy scene than the bachelor party and corporate crowd may realize. There is the Arts District, AREA15 — where Meow Wolf is located, and Container Park on Fremont Street, where I found a great happy hour at Bin 702. With $6 cocktails and affordable charcuterie boards, day drinking was never more appealing.

Fremont at night hosts live music on several stages and even on a weekday, the street was lively with groups of visitors and local characters vying for a taste of that desert nightlife. Travel tip: Don’t buy any weed on Fremont. It was overpriced and underwhelming.

Omega Mart is located in AREA15, an emerging alternative arts location that hosts the extensive Meow Wolf exhibit as well as other places to get a drink, grab a bite, and admire the artistic side of the city.

Credit: Christopher DeVargas for Meow Wolf

I’ve never been in an art exhibit where pure joy and wonder are so apparent on the faces of strangers. I caught myself staring in childlike amazement, shaking my head in wonder at how transformative Meow Wolf can be. People appear and disappear in front of you, revealing secret passages that connect divergent worlds.

Omega Mart was my first bite of the never-ending Meow Wolf feast. I knew going in that there were layers. Things were not all as they seemed. First stepping inside, if you didn’t look too hard, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a local grocery store and Omega Mart, but looking even the tiniest bit closer starts to reveal more.

“There are the waders, the swimmers, and the deep divers,” Michael, my guide, told me. That statement became apparent as we moved through the experience. Some people gazed with astonishment at the visual art or were amazed at the secret passages or soundscapes. Some were drawn into the story, picking up objects to read them, connecting some of the dots, and following the basic plot. A few others, however, were deep divers reading every loose piece of paper, turning over every item, scanning QR codes, and translating secret messages.

That is the beauty of Meow Wolf. There is something for everyone, at all levels, to enjoy. You can dive as deep as you want or wade through wide-eyed.

Photo by Austin Clinkenbeard

Something familiar, something new

What can I say about visiting Denver or Boulder that hasn’t been said before? What is there to do that is not just the same old sh*t — walk Pearl Street, check out the Flatirons. These days, there really needs to be a draw to bring locals to Boulder, even though as an out-of-towner, I did enjoy both.

I suggest visiting the other downtowns. I stopped by the Erie Social Club. Even on a weekday it was buzzing with patrons, clearly the place to be. Not far away, I grabbed tacos and a margarita at chef Fausto Felix’s place, The Dugout. There are hidden gems sprinkled throughout North Metro that aren’t always on the tourist brochure.

Boulder has its charms, and one of the brightest is the Hotel Boulderado. From the instant I pulled in to the second I checked out, the staff was fantastic. I regret arriving at the hotel so late. I wished I had more time to explore the grounds and find a place to work.

Hotel Boulderado. Photo by Austin Clinkenbeard

My room was just what I needed after escaping Las Vegas: quiet, spacious, stately. I was able to spread out and feel clean and comfortable after the minor debauchery in the desert. The room had a view of the Flatirons which was stunning. There were even two TVs. I had a wonderful night’s sleep.

It’s hard to leave a nice hotel — I found myself skipping my breakfast plans to have coffee and work in the lobby and enjoy my room. My tour at Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station in Denver was fast approaching. I walked through the hotel’s skywalk and made a note to set up with my laptop here later.

Initially Convergence Station appears as something it is not — in this case, an airport. Visitors are quickly transported to C-street, a trash-chic alley that may have been my favorite section of all. Every building offered something inside, a movie theater with lo-fi clips playing, a convenience store with Omega Mart products, and a Chuck-E-Cheese-esque playhouse that offered a glimpse of something more.

There are hidden “Easter eggs” to discover at each location, and I was fortunate enough to view a few different ones here in Convergence Station. I was transported through a black hole, saw a castle filled with light, and played a song with complete strangers. Every sense is engaged when diving into the experience. “Is this real?” a young kid wondered out loud as they gazed at the walls. None of the adults in the room could give an answer.

One of the most representative experiences was talking with a woman outside the exhibit. She was already beyond thrilled to explore but had little idea what was inside. We talked as a group about the ability for immersive art to connect complete strangers and inspire creativity from basic interactions. Once inside we ran into her again where she was clearly immersed in the magic of discovery. Its the human connection that helps make this experience such a unique one.

Photo by Jess Bernstein

Dinner that night was at Spruce Farm & Fish in the Hotel Boulderado. I had been operating on a budget and finally was able to have a taste of luxury. First up were oysters from the East Coast. I typically like their brininess and size compared to those from the West Coast. They were paired with a glass of sparkling wine, crisp and palate cleansing. One pro tip: Sparkling wine goes with just about anything. Next was the salmon salad — something not only my waiter recommended, I also overheard the table next to me gushing over it. The salmon was cooked perfectly. It practically melted on my fork. I’m not a kale fan by any means, but this time it worked. The Dijon dressing tied it all together with the balance of acidity.

My final course was the ribs. They weren’t necessarily fall-off-the-bone as my waiter told me, but they packed a punch in flavor and texture, just like he said. I had a smoky old fashioned which was a great complement to the meal. The ribs were very good, but honestly the salmon stole the show.

After a long walk, drinks at The Sink were just what I needed. Getting off Pearl Street and exploring the college neighborhood was a nice change of pace. The bartender was friendly, the vibe was very low-key, and the prices were absolutely perfect. It’s a great spot to enjoy some old Boulder history and people watch.

Photo by Austin Clinkenbeard

Where it all begins

Road trips through this part of the country remind me of my childhood. My family preferred to drive, so visiting family in Colorado meant stopping off in Santa Fe or Las Vegas quite often. It felt right to be back, to be somewhere familiar while exploring something entirely unknown.

I love New Mexico. It’s probably the history, being part of the Spanish Empire and then Mexico for so long, and the thousands of years of Native American cities and cultures that pre-date even that. History shows when cultures collide, great food is often a result. Even though it wasn’t green chile season, the food in Santa Fe was the best of the trip.

I had no idea there was such a food truck culture down here. Hands down the best was Fusion Tacos. I actually walked right past this truck the first time because of the name Fusion. I was looking for something authentic, forgetting that neither word has a claim on deliciousness. The quesabirria were tender and dripping with sauce.

Luckily my hotel was located close enough to walk to the House of Eternal Return, the original Meow Wolf location. What began with an empty bowling alley, a dream, and a hit fantasy author, turned into the house of art that spawned it all.

It is immediately apparent that something is wrong. There is a home, but the entire family is missing. The place is swarming with agents in protective suits. What would be a nice family house is turned upside down with snippets of universes colliding and people with unique powers. The music and lighting hint at mystery.

Convergence Station. Every building offered something inside, a movie theater with lo-fi clips playing, a convenience store with Omega Mart products, and a Chuck-E-Cheeseesque playhouse that offered a glimpse of something more. Photo by Austin Clinkenbeard

I followed the Reddit suggestions of where to begin and started my dive into the beginning of the Meow Wolf world at the end of my travels. Meow Wolf represents the “accessible unknown.” Some of the most innovative elements are the sound art, the curated sound tracks, and audioscapes that emanate from each room. Sometimes visitors can interact with the sounds, sometimes they hold a message if you listen closely enough. The numerous artists that helped sculpt such a sensory experience deserve praise. I know I need to return immediately.

For dinner, one place in particular caught my eye — Jambo Cafe, an African and Carribean restaurant. When the waitress lit up after my order of goat stew, I knew I was in for a treat. The spices were a great balance to the gaminess of the goat but I could have used a little more heat. There was an older couple next to me with the husband complaining about this or that the entire time. He was skeptical of his order — until he took a bite. “Wow, this is good,” is all he muttered for the rest of the meal.

The next morning happened to be my birthday. I decided to get out early and stroll the farmer’s market, which is more of a craft market than a food one. I did find a delicious morning meal at a pupusa stand. Having just spent two months in southeast Asia, I was arrogant. Spicy green chile? No problem. The second my eyes started to water and my mouth was screaming, I remembered just how intense the flavors down here can be.

Photo by Jess Bernstein

My night out consisted of two spots off the main streets, Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery and Leaf & Hive Brew Lab. Both had fantastic ratings on Google and were within somewhat of a walking distance. Twenty-five minutes seems a lot closer on paper than it does in real life.

Tumbleroot is a must. I was early to arrive, but as the crowd filled in, the night took off. I was given a free cocktail for my birthday before sauntering my way down to the food options. Fries piled high with chiles and salsa awaited me. At one point I asked to use the restroom and came face to face with a Mexican band and dozens of enthusiastic fans. Much like Meow Wolf, I had no idea what each threshold held.

Leaf & Hive was my final stop of my birthday tour. I was expecting an atmosphere similar to Tumbleroot but was instead surprised with live comedy. I joined in the laughs and ordered a drink. After the set I stepped outside with the performers and chatted for a bit. I always admired standup artists. There are no editors to filter content through and there can be so much truth in a joke.

Ossuary Library. Photo by Nikki A. Rae

The road back to Denver

Driving back to Denver to return my car presented a few obstacles. My flight wasn’t until 10:30 p.m., and each email from Spirit meant further delay in my departure. I needed to find some roadside attractions and pitstops to fill my time. Taos was one.

Taos holds so much history. The old town is great, harkening back to frontier days, but the nearby Native American living village holds so many more stories. It has been continuously occupied for over 1,000 years and represents the trade hub between Mesoamerica, the Plains Tribes, the Southwest, and more. You can still buy silver and turquoise jewelry here that has been highly valued for countless generations.

Meandering back to Denver, I stopped at as many scenic views as I could. The plains spreading out before the mountains evoked so many emotions, those of nostalgic loss for the tribes here before and of growth for the settlers who came after.

Photo by Jess Bernstein

I pulled over in Pueblo for a pitstop. It was well past lunch, and I needed to stretch my feet. The Riverwalk was a perfect layover. Although no restaurants caught my eye, the stroll along the channeled river was a nice way to break up the time.

Along the way was Garden of the Gods. I know many readers may not be a huge fan of Colorado Springs. It’s Focus on the Family territory after all. It’s still worth driving through to check out these unique rock formations.

MEOW WOLF. Some of the most innovative elements are the sound art, the curated sound tracks, and audioscapes that emanate from each room. Sometimes visitors can interact with the sounds, and sometimes they hold a message if you listen closely enough. Photo by Jess Bernstein

Where am I?

People are there one moment, transported away the next. Passages to what you thought was a familiar place quickly become unrecognizable as you enter a new world. The storefront you first entered is just that — a front. Behind the freezer section, alien worlds are converging, and something unusual is taking shape.

What I found most immersive about each Meow Wolf location was the use of not only visual effects like projections, changing lights, and painted works, but the incredible acoustics that created unique audio sensations in each space. Audio is art here. There are interactive lasers that trigger sounds, songs for each mood and room, and even places to stand where only you can hear voices revealing more clues.The entire home is an interlocking labyrinth of fever dreams. The only sense missing from the experience is scent.

I finally hopped on my plane, so tired I was hardly conscious. I crossed another time zone. I blinked and was in another state. In a way it felt like traveling through one of the hidden portals at Convergence Station. I had been on the road for a week, taking three flights and driving over 800 miles. Not even a month before, I was in Southeast Asia making my way through Bali and Bangkok. I’m writing this from Lake Tahoe, on the California and Nevada border. Falling through one door and ending up somewhere completely different makes sense in a chaotic sort of way. So does Meow Wolf when you embrace it.


Austin Clinkenbeard
Austin Clinkenbeard has been traveling the world with his wife for the past several years exploring food, history and culture along the way. He is a passionate advocate for stronger social science education and informed global travel. Austin holds degrees in Anthropology and Political Science from San Diego State. When he’s home there’s a good chance you can catch him cooking allergy friendly food. You can follow along Austin’s travel adventures and food allergy journey at www.NowWeExplore.com.

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