(A room within rooms at MEOW WOLF)

Despite an immersive eleven days discovering the profound beauty within the southern half of New Mexico, I had returned to Santa Fe the day before Valentine’s Day. I was tired and exhausted and feeling the bookend of my time in New Mexico drawing closer, but I didn’t let that stop me from attempting to venture out once more. I figured I’d put myself someplace public and frankly, go and do something I wanted to do. Which was visit the Meowwolf exhibit in downtown Santa Fe and perhaps meet a kindred spirit within this fantasy world.

MEOWWOLF! House of Eternal Returns;

Friday. February 14. 2020

While sitting on the couch of the living room within the House of Eternal Returns, I heard a voice say out loud, “I’ve come back here three times now.” I look up and see a girl standing in the room, which has lots of frequent visitors, but this one was looking and talking to me. I acknowledged her, but we were both occupied with searching for more household clues regarding the mysterious disappearance of Lex, the son of the fictitious family that lived in this Victorian-styled house. This room in particular held a litany of access points and clues for solving the puzzle, and I was there studying all that caught my eye in hopes of figuring it out. I had already thumbed through a planner from the uncle of the family and had been holding some documents addressed to him in a manilla envelope. I say to the girl standing there, “Here.. check this out... I found the safe code written in there!” I pass her the planner and she sits down on the couch. I put the documents back into the folder as it was far to complex to interpret the situation that prompted its inscribing. I had spent close to two hours exploring and making a halfway attempt at discovering clues and decided to instead switch gears and start sharing and conversing with this energetic person next to me.

She asks, “What safe, where” and, “Have you read the obituary in the kitchen?” I said I hadn’t and then explained where the safe was located at. We laughed at the novelty of trying to explain locations in a place that has you walking through refrigerators and entering into inter-galactic travel agencies which then lead you towards upside-down rooms and further on into chaotic and illuminated forests. She flips through the planner and I lean over to call attention to the parts that I found interesting and relating to the unfolding story.

It was refreshing to take a break from the brain-numbing storyline that was not laid out in such a way that allows you to simply walk through and discover a series of obviously placed clues, but to instead comb through the contents of an entire household that was abandoned without explanation. Could there be something written inside a book, among the hundreds placed normally along a bookshelf or was there an important paragraph written in a fully constructed newspaper. Perhaps read through one of the family members' journals which are pages upon pages of seemingly benign information, until you pass a page that screams relevancy. Would a drawing on a wall be significant or could even the absence of something be a clue? Could you figure out how to tune electrical devices that resonate with disturbing sounds or decipher meaning from the interpersonal relationships that existed amongst at least nine different human and non-human entities that lived there in this fabricated Mendocino household?

This is the thought-provoking, immersive and imaginative conceptual art exhibit created by Santa Fe’s own resident art collective known as, Meow wolf. It’s an interactive space that begins with an underlying mystery of the strange and unexplained disappearance of a family and the outward disturbances it caused in space, time and the shape of a seemingly normal house. Venturing beyond a certain room could very well lead you into an other-worldly fairytale environment and all of which have the overtones of a science fiction event taking place. Written into various rooms and installations, by way of flipping through books on a shelf, tuning harmonic devices, listening to sounds coming from walls, browsing through drawers and totally immersing oneself into the spaces accessed through secret portals is a never-ending mystery encoded into a world of lights, colors, patterns and amazement.

Needless to say, my mind was abuzz with the ferocity it required to pass through hordes of people to search for obscured clues hidden within the house and beyond out into the multiverse. I desperately tried to remember and familiarize myself with the fragmented pieces of information I obtained as I interacted and explored, but there was absolutely no connections being made at the time. It did make for a fun and frantic time returning to a room you had already visited after finding out something about it in another room. Which even then, the passage from room to room was an enigma of itself. The place was created as a dream-like maze of corridors.

Having someone to finally bounce ideas off of and reveal out loud the discoveries made created a newfound sense of enthusiasm. She too was relaying her findings and before long, we were racing up the stairs to see if we could crack into the safe.

The code would not work. So, we circled back down towards the kitchen so she could show me the newspaper that contained the boy’s obituary. Before we got there, we became distracted by the secret passageway underneath the stairs. We laughed and laughed at the novelty of this place and how much it could suck one in, leaving them helpless to try any sort out any logical progression through it all. We started going around and around the 20,000 square foot amusement park exploring and commenting on things more fully together. Even still, after two hours spent investigating the place prior to our conjoined effort, we were still finding new places that had remained hidden to us both.

Our friendship had become instantly palatable and as we explored meow wolf, we also began to research each other. We had both been on very similar travel paths up until this Valentine’s Day meeting and had ventured into similar places across the US along the way. In fact, many of those stops were nearly identical having both visited parts of the Ozarks, Missouri, Arkansas and practically within days of each other, had made stops in New Mexico at White Sands and the Lincoln Forest. It was as if we were both circling the state, bound to meet each other once our concentric circles could become crossed at that exact same time. Even more jarring, was after an eleven-day journey all over the southern half of the state, I had made one last stop to a saloon in a town twenty minutes outside Santa Fe. She was actually camped there at that time. It should really be no surprise then, that by the next morning, we had both awoken with similar interests and desires to go to meow wolf during the exact same hour.

While our recent paths had been eerily similar up until this point, from there we would travel in two, very opposing directions: hers being west towards California and eventually up to Oregon and mine being east back towards North Carolina and further on to Florida landing us in the most opposite corners of the United States.

But the strange and unexpected similarity in our trajectories had one more surprise left to be revealed. Before I felt my time in New Mexico could be deemed complete, I had to visit the second town that ever came onto my list of interesting places: Taos.

Initially, I was planning to give myself a few days recovery from the long and lengthy excursion I had just completed, but when I heard the words fall from her mouth that Taos was to be her next place to visit, I jumped at the opportunity for us to see it together. She smiled at me, sensing my enthusiasm and it was set.

We continued to wander through the exhibit and she disappeared into a tiny little passageway that dead-ended behind a spaceship. It was totally surrounded by 3-D writings and drawings done in blacklight ink. We here with our 3D glasses on getting to know each other further while gazing upon the artistry.

The time in the multiverse had flown by. Before we knew it, another two and a half hours had disappeared. We decided we should leave and I had mentioned a chic lounge place I had been recommended. It looked like the total opposite to the psychotic world we had been burrowed into and it may cause such a jarring adjustment that we would crumble and fall to pieces should we try and enter it. So, we instead searched for someplace else and landed on the Dragon Cafe. Before leaving we spent a bit of time in the gift shop, attempting to decompress from the intense visual and mental experience before heading outside into the cold night air. She suggested we ride together and offered to drive.

As she moved things from the front seat to the back, she had been apologizing for the slew of items having gone a mess in her car, but I had been thinking of how much stuff I would have had to move should we gotten into my vehicle. We park at the capital building where I had gone previously for the luminary walk near six weeks earlier and from the cold, windy walk, we slipped in and grabbed a table near the back. It was packed and it had a tree growing in the middle. For us, having come from a world of trees and magical lights, it seemed appropriate, but flipping through the menu we thought it was not the place to be and just as quietly as we had entered, we stealthily escaped back outside unnoticed.

Next door over was an Indian restaurant and it sounded so perfect, but unfortunately they had just stopped serving. The man standing there made a halfway decent attempt at saying he would serve us food if we knew what we wanted. A few things came to mind, but we weren’t in any rush to get our food to go. The man was in a complete state of exhaustion and even went so far as to say exactly that. We said we wouldn’t be a bother and thanked him for offering to feed us. We left and were now back to the cold, wandering the streets trying to find someplace else. We found another Indian place that was within walking distance and lucky for us they were not exhausted and still serving food! We dined on chickpea masala and aloo gobi with two different types of naan. We ate half of each and saved the rest for our trip tomorrow.

(La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs)

Saturday. February 15. 2020

The drive north was mesmerizing. I had seen a portion of these views on my return route from Bandelier, but this would continue the mountainous corridor between the Jemez mountains and the parts of Carson Forest I’d not yet seen. Before we had even left La Cieneguilla, however, I saw her brake lights flicker as she drove past the petroglyph site there. I could read her intrigue and desire to go in, simply by the stop and go hesitation after passing by it. She pulled in to the next dirt road and said she wanted to go in. I smiled big saying I’d hoped you would! I lead her up to the mesa cliffs that housed the drawings and gave her a rundown on all the history I’d collected over the past seven weeks. She remained mostly quiet the entire time, soaking up the energy of the place. The biggest takeaway I’ve had from visiting sites like this, is how shockingly close I feel to being in their presence despite the near thousand-year gap between our two time periods. We climbed along the volcanic rocks to find the cave I’d discovered. She felt comfortable talking a bit more once in here, but it was mostly contained to how she was reading the energy of the space. I said we should get going and we climbed our way back down and into our cars to resume the balmy drive out to our first stop: the eco Earthships constructed in the desert region outside of Taos. This was her choice for sites to see and it happened to be less than two miles from the site I wanted to see, The Gorge.

The Earthships were totally cool. A community of completely self-reliant, biotecturally constructed homes that utilized natural resources in a manner that eliminates every single utility cost that any other home would otherwise be forced to pay and consume. They filtered water, remediating it for a total of four times before passing it back into the cisterns for primary usage. Solar and wind harnessed the energy needed to power low wattage DC appliances. The materials used to construct, were of either natural or found objects like, tires, bottles and adobe. It's not to say these buildings are costless, as it requires building plans, maestros to construct, electrical and plumbing for the house as well as tin roofs, glass windows, doors and home decor, but the off-grid concept was one that they could spread across the globe and effectively recover your costs in the money saved by having 0 utility costs from then on.

We really enjoyed our informative time here and I could see the gears spinning inside her head as she truly desired this to be the style of a home she saw for herself. I’d seen quite a bit of these in Vilcabamba, but this one was constructed at a pretty high level of completeness for all its connected systems requiring zero grid input. Not to mention, it was surrounded by a community of at least a dozen or so other homes, all uniquely constructed in their various and amusing shapes and styles.

The joy of using natural construction methods like wattle and daub or earthbags, are the designs in which you get to use are organic, funky and creative. It makes the space so much homier and cozy, in my opinion. We stomped around the outside getting muddy to a point neither of us liked all that much, but we laughed at the reoccurrence of it after each attempt to clean off our boots. Before long, we were down the highway and walking up to The Gorge, a pedestrian and motorist bridge that spans the Rio Grande at a very scenic and towering point.

I made sure to bundle up as I figured the wind would be ripping out there and I knew I’d like to spend some time taking in the scenery. We laughed at the, “Mind your children” signage and crisscrossed from one side to the other determining which view we liked best. While standing there gazing at the sunnier vista, she spotted a herd of Barbary or possibly Big Horn sheep approaching the gorge’s cliff-lined edge. I made jokes about their poor route planning that left them standing at this seemingly uncrossable, impassable and never-ending impediment. They ended up sitting down right there at the cliff's edge, all seven or eight of them, while one remained standing behind to keep watch for any approaching predators. I don’t think a single person saw them there and we watched and wondered about their goings and comings, sometimes calling out to see if their heads would turn.

Carson Forests’ snow-capped mountains divided and split themselves upon either side of us and it was a marvelous sight to look down into the dizzying depths of the gorge and then back up towards the angular and chiseled formations of the great, mountainous peaks staring back at us.

However, due to the dizzying day I had had before, filled with the excitement of meeting someone so new and spectacular and visiting such a wild and vibrant energetic vortex of art and intrigue, that it caused me to start fading quite rapidly once we were done with The Gorge and on our way into Taos. I hadn’t a location selected and was just driving around looking for a nice, clear, green space to cook and take in the scenery. Taos turned out to be a bustling sprawl with lots of cars and an energy I could not match. We wound up finding a park and it was perfect to settle into. I reheated the night before’s Indian meal and heated up a kettle of coffee.

The little park was closing soon and the sun had already begun to glow distantly on the horizon behind us. We packed up the vehicles and decided to go up to Eagles Nest for the night. We left her car at the nearby Walmart and traveled together to our next destination. The road into the mountains took the anticipated rapid ascent and now dark, I grew a bit anxious seeing the levels of snow that had been pushed to the side of the roads by the plows. I’d seen this setting quite a few times by now and knew that the chances of getting into one of the marked campsites would be very low, but I remained optimistic that something would avail itself. The good news was, these mountain roads are pretty low traffic and certainly die off during the night. So making a pull-off on one was also a very plausible and workable solution. It does however, also become the norm that after investing hopes in one of the selected sites being open and come to find out that it is closed, that the GPS is no longer available as cell service has disappeared in these high altitude locations.

The path around these series of mountain peaks is called the Ring of Enchantment and it goes around in a near-perfect circle passing by sites like Eagles Nest, Angel Fire, Cimarron, Raton and back on around towards Red River. Our instincts lead us down towards Angel Fire and onto a short road that held only a church and a promising campsite. The campsite, despite being located on an offshoot from the paved road would not be accessible due to snow. But for some reason, something about this snowed-in drive made me think that if perhaps by slow, methodical, 4-wheel advancements, I could make my way into it, even without exposed ruts to drive in.

It had a slight uphill at the gated entrance and the truck immediately began to spin tires. I thought it needed maybe a little more juice to get up and over the initial hump and once seeing me back up and go at again she exclaims, “It's really deep!”

“Oh, I’ve gone through deeper,” I retorted, not seeing things through the same lens as her. Sure enough, I was stopped and stalled again. This time, though, I was unable to back up and all four wheels were spinning in their place. Even in 4-Low, I was unable to advance either forward or backward. I got out and inspected the situation and it was upon seeing the snow piled up to nearly the entire height of the front tires that I too could finally see what she had already observed.

“Well, we’re not going anywhere like this, but I’ve got a few ideas to try out,” I said as I started pulling things out from the backseat of the truck. I unfolded the shovel and started digging out the tires to perhaps allow them to make contact with the ground. I get back in and see if that made any difference, but still in 4L I was not going anywhere. I attempted to use the vehicle’s crawl control feature, an automated drive mode that regulates tire spin independently, slowly digging and dropping sediment to be below the tires, allowing it to then, “crawl” its way out. You neither use the gas or the brakes in this setting and simply allow the vehicle to use its traction sensors to make its own escape. I’ve seen it done in loose sand by the truck designers, and once done in snowy mud by an amateur, but none of which were the situation I was in. I was attempting to work myself out with nothing but soft, powdery snow that had the tires basically suspended in a cloud of air.

The second attempt failed, but I said I had one more trick up the sleeve before I would have to either fetch sticks and rocks to build a traction ramp or we would be forced to camp there and try to get out in the morning. I pulled from the truck a tire deflator and brought the pressure down to about 20 psi. I could go even further, but the lower you go, the higher the risk of breaking a tire bead. When tires are deflated, it creates more contact with the ground, giving it better traction while also softening that contact and allowing the tread to dig in deeper. I took my time, deflating and thinking things over in my head as she hung herself out the window and held the flashlight for me to see. I made a few extra digs at clearing a path for the tires to come back on and she planted some positive, “We’re gonna get out this time” energy into the situation.

I hop back in, tried to reverse in 4L and was met again by the same spinning outcome. So, I activated the crawl control and let it work its automated magic. I gave the wheel a few jerks from side to side and she shouts, “It’s working! It’s working!” I could feel the truck building up tiny amounts of traction and within half a minute, it had crawled itself back onto the pavement all on its own! I looked ahead at the ruts created and let out a laugh admitting at how deep it really was! We high-five and agreed camping out behind the church was the safest call we could make.

Its parking lot wrapped around to a lower portion that seemed like it would be unused. It was Saturday night, so I figured there was a pretty high chance of encountering some churchgoers in the morning, but hopefully our situation would be explainable enough that it would be taken lightly.

Sunday. February 16. 2020

In the morning I peered out and could see the upper parking lot beginning to fill with cars. It was now five to nine and a church service was definitely about to take place. Rather than becoming a part of the sermon, I quickly hopped out and began warming up the vehicle. I noticed a few persons come to the window to look down at us parked there. They would leave and come back with another person, and kept looking. I rolled down the window and gave the very confused gathering a wave, to which they did muster a wave back, but it too was as equally confused as their expressions were. We laughed and rolled out of Angel Fire and headed back towards Eagle’s Nest.

Once in Eagles Nest, I stopped off at a Shell station to re-inflate the tires, make use of the bathrooms and also get a refill on the coffee. I was unsure if the lake here in town was beyond the mountains visible or if the snow-covered plateau was the lake itself. Well, as we drove down the park’s entrance, we would find out it would in fact be the plateau. I said, “Look! There are people all over!” And sure enough, the lake had a scattering of huddled-over people out ice fishing.

The movement was occurring all over the lake as people drug sleds out to random locations to try their luck at different spots. I depth tested a few abandoned fishing holes with my coffee mug to see how far below the surface the ice went, but I could not detect an edge and wasn’t about to stick my whole arm in it to find out. I had seen all the fishermen using gas-powered augers, so I imagine deep enough to need that as well as solid enough to support the people and all of their loaded and heavy gear. Some had pop up shelters while others had snowmobiles and ATV’s out with them.