I recently headed to the House of Eternal Return, a new visual art exhibit in Santa Fe, New Mexico to find out what happened to its occupants, the Selig family.
Immersive Storytelling at The House of Eternal Return
At first glance, the 2-story Victorian looks like any other on a summer evening. So much so that I felt like I was trespassing as I crossed the synthetic lawn, opened the mailbox and rummaged through its contents.
I was told there could be clues to the family’s disappearance in the mail, but unsure what to look for, I turned my attention back to the house. It’s an actual, functioning house where everything works except the plumbing.
But a glance up at the ceiling reminded me that I was in what used to a bowling alley and what Vince Kadlubek, CEO of Meow Wolf, the art collective behind the House of Eternal Return, calls an “immersive storytelling experience.”
The House of Eternal Return is Out of the Box
The House of Eternal Return has been compared to a haunted house without ghosts, an amusement park without rides and a choose-your-own-adventure book come to life. You’re encouraged to read the family’s diaries, thumb through their photo albums and poke around on their computers to uncover clues explaining their disappearance.
Or, you can head straight for the wormholes inside the house—the refrigerator, dryer and fireplace, to name a few—that lead to another dimension. There, you can bang out a tune on the glowing ribs of a mastodon, survey a dark forest with neon plants or peek inside a spacecraft. You may even come face-to-face with a towering rabbit or a hairy, horned alien.
It’s these experiences that have made the House of Eternal Return extremely popular, according to Kadlubek. People are tired of “cookie cutter experiences.” They want to turn the corner and see something new.
The Due Return
Meow Wolf has been creating unique environments for the past 10 years, beginning with forts in a rented warehouse that became increasingly elaborate and led to The Due Return, a time traveling, intergalactic spaceship. The 10 rooms inside the 75-foot long by 25-foot wide ship held artifacts, images and stories from 200 years of exploration.
Kadlubek said the 2011 art installment drew large crowds including a mother who told him The Due Return was the only thing that had pulled her son away from video games that summer. In fact, the boy liked it so much they had returned multiple times. At that point, Kadlubek knew Meow Wolf was on to something.
Wanting to create a more permanent exhibit, the group began planning the House of Eternal Return, but to turn it into reality, they needed two things: a place to build it and money.
George R.R. Martin
That’s when Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin became part of the Meow Wolf story. (Ironically, the “wolf” in the group’s name has nothing to do with the dire wolfs featured in Martin’s series. It’s just one of two random words drawn from a hat when the group needed a name several years earlier.)
Kadlubek had worked with Martin for a time to promote the Jean Cocteau Cinema, a Santa Fe theater the author owns. Knowing it was a longshot, he emailed Martin, asking if he would consider purchasing an abandoned bowling alley. Martin enthusiastically agreed and became the Meow Wolf’s landlord.
Watch for nods to the famous author as you wander through the House of Eternal Return such as the trim on the Victorian house, which includes dragon figures, and the doormat at the front door, which reads, “Beyond Here There Be Dragons.”
House of Eternal Return – The Details
Plan on spending at least two hours inside the House of Eternal Return. I visited as a media guest when it was closed for maintenance and upgrades, and even without the crowds, I barely had time to walk through the attraction in an hour, let alone dig into the mystery.
My guide told me it’s not uncommon for visitors to spend hours reading one of Selig family’s diaries or flipping through papers on one of their desks. One family of visitors even spent an entire day, from opening until closing, trying to solve the mystery.
And, yes, she assured me, there is an explanation for what happened to the Selig family, if you look hard enough. Their fate isn’t just conjecture.
Avoiding the Crowds at Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return
Because the House of Eternal Return is so popular, there can be lines to get inside. To avoid the crowds, Meow Wolf actually recommends arriving after 4:30 p.m. and staying until closing (8 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, or 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday). Or, planning to visit on Sunday when it is usually quieter.
Most people are waiting in line to buy tickets, so if you purchase your tickets online and pick them up at will call, you won’t have to spend as much time standing in line. You can also avoid the line by purchasing an annual pass.
Tickets are $20 for adults ($17 for New Mexico residents) and $14 for children ($12 for New Mexico residents). Annual family passes are $200 while annual single passes are $100.
Exploring the Santa Fe Area
The House of Eternal Return is located in an industrial area about five miles from Santa Fe’s historic plaza. If you’re hungry before or after a visit, try a wood fired pizza at Dr. Field Goods Kitchen. I recommend the New Mexico version of the margarita pizza topped with carne adovada.
Or, sip a cold one at Duel Brewing’s brewery in Santa Fe, just around the corner from the Meow Wolf complex.
Back on the plaza, visit Loretto Chapel, the Palace of the Governors, or the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Then, browse the shops for Native American crafts, spicy chile blends and other souvenirs. Here are more ideas for your visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
As you wander, don’t be surprised if you catching yourself speculating about what happened to the Selig family. I still do, and while I have a few theories, I’m just going to have to go back to The House of Eternal Return to find out whether I’m right.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.