Somewhere between the glowing, living swamp and the creepy, underground catacombs, my 4-year-old daughter began begging me to leave Meow Wolf Denver.
“It’s too scary!” Lucy half-whined, less than 30 minutes after she, my 9-year-old son, Tom, and I entered the massive, triangular building rising from Interstate 25 and West Colfax Avenue, which opened on Sept. 17.
We showed up for our 5 p.m. slot a few minutes early, joining the back of a long line that moved quickly once our time came. My backpack was searched and water bottles emptied, TSA-style, but otherwise entry was smooth. Just inside, my kids were wowed by the lobby of Convergence Station, as the Denver installation is called, with its airport-like flip boards and wide, echoing walls.
From there we could depart for one of four themed (or “converged,” as Meow Wolf says) worlds, each reflecting Meow Wolf’s trippy, sculptural-immersion aesthetic: an ice world (Eemia); an alien-swamp (Numina); an underground lair (Ossuary); and a futuristic urban dystopia (C Street). They’re all photo-friendly collections of eclectic, interactive elements, such as touch-sensitive lights and panels, mixed with the pleasant confusion of a theme park and the circular exploration of a fun house.
My kids didn’t know, and probably wouldn’t have cared, about the 100-plus local artists who contributed to the installation, or the debates over whether what the company does is art or commerce (surprise: it’s both!).
They just wanted to see “the cool stuff,” which Convergence Station is full of: a sinister pizza palace (inspired by ShowBiz Pizza Place); glowing skulls and death masks; Transformers-like robots; elaborate Indigenous murals; giant, interactive castles; and secret passages discoverable only by trial and error.
The lighting was at times spooky, and the constant sound-bath was disorienting for everyone in my small party. But as Lucy sucked it up and Tom became more comfortable with exploring, we fell into a rhythm that most parents will recognize from museum visits: The kids are always in a hurry, straining at the end of your tightly clasped hands like puppies on their first walk, eager to see the next wonder and skipping over many others in the process. Until they aren’t.
My kids spent time with the things you could get in and climb through — especially C Street’s collection of steampunk-repurposed vehicles, which gave us the sense of being on a movie set — as well as the hypnotic, interactive projection mapping in the Perplexiplex (Meow Wolf Denver’s music venue). But after about two hours, they felt like they’d seen everything. They hadn’t, but that was OK with me. Lucy split off with my wife to grab a snack in the small café, while Tom and I delved deeper into the mystery for a few minutes more.
The costumed, roaming employees, who spout awkward-sounding gibberish as part of their nebulous and scene-setting improv, came on a little strong at times. I found myself avoiding them as I do with clipboard-toting volunteers at a park. While only open for three weeks, the installation is already showing hints of wear and tear, likely from handsy kids like mine. Empty shelves with glue marks showed where a couple of items had been ripped away. A few small sculptures seemed loose in their moorings.
It’s to be expected in an exhibit that invites such constant interaction, although a leaky ceiling in the lobby cut off access to the C Street elevator at one point, sending us (and dozens of others) up and down several flights of stairs. Tom and Lucy didn’t seem to mind.
We noticed a few other families there — including some with infants — but I believe that 7 to 9 years old is about the youngest you’d want to bring. That’s not because of the spook-factor (which is mild) but because of their attention spans. Kids 4 and under are free; the rest are $30-$35 for Colorado residents, and it’s $40-$45 for out-of-state visitors.
Tickets for my family of four cost about $150 (I mistakenly paid for Lucy’s ticket), including the $10 parking. That’s roughly the same as a Rockies game, although more expensive than a trip to the movies, and a great deal higher than cultural institutions like the Denver Museum of Nature & Science or Denver Zoo.
All are crowded these days, given the breeders overwhelming Denver’s public attractions (sorry, childless people), but Meow Wolf Denver’s timed entry allowed us mostly comfortable passage through its tight corridors and portals.
Unlike Santa Fe’s House of Eternal Return — another Meow wolf exhibit that my kids enjoyed — Convergence Station can be cartoonishly sinister and gritty. Youngsters like Lucy may be overwhelmed, but I suspect Tom will remember this first visit. Convergence Station offers something unique in a city increasingly stuffed with family-friendly attractions, and I can see my kids wanting to return. Maybe just not next month.
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