I’ve already written two posts about my recent visit to Meow Wolf, one a general review and one about buying a piece of art from the Art-o-mat® in the lobby. Yet, I still have a lot of photos I haven’t shared.
What’s weird is that while I felt as if I took a lot of photos while in the House of Eternal Return exhibit, when I look through my photos, I realize there were so many photo opportunities that I missed. I was trying to experience the experience and not live behind my camera, but it seems like I left out so much.
Of course, it would be difficult to adequately explain Meow Wolf to you even if I had carefully photographed every single different thing I saw. (Such a task would take a very long time.) There’s so much going on in the place. There are not only objects and paintings to look at, but there’s music happening and ever-changing lights. Some of the lights and music change because of something someone touches. In some places one can play music by touching lights. Almost every aspect of the House of Eternal Return is a multisensory extravaganza.
The only way to even begin to understand Meow Wolf is to make your own visit. Actually, there may be no way to understand Meow Wolf completely. But I certainly can’t explain it to you.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Meow Wolf for me is that those people have an entire bus in there! Is it a reference to Ken Kesey’s bus Furthur? Are the Meow Wolf artists on the bus or off the bus? Did I mention the bus is vertical, with its engine and front wheels in the air? We first encountered the bus on the ground floor. I was beyond pleased when we went upstairs and found the front half of it sticking up through the floor.
But is it art? Who cares? It’s an entire bus (or most of an entire bus…I couldn’t tell if it was all there) inside a building sticking up through the floor. What is there not to love?
Here area few more random things I saw during my visit to Meow Wolf.
Even the long hallway between the ticket counter and the restrooms was full of art. The whole place was about art and life and thought and coolness.
When I go back to Meow Wolf, and I do plan to go back, I will take more photos.
I’m doing something a little different today. Maybe you noticed. I’m using galleries for the first time so I can share many photos at once with you. If you click on the smaller photos, they’ll enlarge so you can see the better. I’d love to know what you think about this format. Tell me what you think in the comments.
I took the photos in this post unless otherwise noted. The low light in the exhibit made for substandard image quality. My apologies.
The Man and I finally visited Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM, and we had an awesome time. I want to tell you all about it, but please know that my words and photographs simply cannot do the place justice.
Actually, even if I could tell you all about Meow Wolf and show you all of my photos, I probably shouldn’t. Part of the fun for me was going in fresh, not really knowing what to expect. Before I went, I purposefully avoided doing a lot of research on the place. I wanted to experience what was there without a lot of foreknowledge.
I did know a little bit about Meow Wolf before I went, and I will share some information with you.
Meow Wolf is an arts and entertainment group based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. [The group was] established in 2008 as an art collective.
The aforementioned webpage says,
Meow Wolf is comprised of over 400 employees creating and supporting art across a variety of media, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality (AR/VR/MR), music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, performance, and more!
Also, Meow Wolf is housed inside an old bowling alley! According to the Meow Wolf FAQs, the bowling alley closed in 2008 and sat empty for several years. There is no bowling there now and the lanes have been stripped out.
While reading those FAQs to learn more about the old bowling alley, I learned how Meow Wolf got its name.
At the very first meeting of the collective in 2008, everyone put two words into a hat. Then they picked two random words out of the hat and got “Meow Wolf.”
There are some things you should know about Meow Wolf Santa Fe before you go. It is located at 1352 Rufina Circle, just off Cerrillos Road. Regular hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 8pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am to 10pm. Meow Wolf is closed on Tuesdays. Check holiday closures here.
The parking lot at Meow Wolf is rather small, but parking is also available on nearby streets. The Man and I visited at noon on a Sunday and had to park about two blocks away. The parking lot is not available to RVs, trailers, or other oversized vehicles; such vehicles must be parked on the street. Vandwellers traveling with companion animals should note that animal control may be called if animals are left unattended in vehicles in the Meow Wolf parking lot. Vandwellers should also note that overnight parking is not allowed in the lot.
Strollers, backpacks and oversized bags are not allowed in the exhibit, but the items can be securely stored for you for a small fee. Stroller/walker/wheel chair storage is complementary.
An important concern for many people is the accessibility of Meow Wolf. This is what the FAQ page has to say about accessibility:
[T]he first floor of our exhibition is ADA accessible and navigable by crutches, walkers, wheelchairs or scooters, but some areas may require additional navigational guidance from our docent staff (they are here to help!). There is almost always more than one way to access to an area…We do not have elevators…to the second floor, though, and the second floor is much more difficult to navigate as well (more single steps up/down and narrow passageways). Areas with flashing lights are located behind clearly labeled doors. You do not need to coordinate ADA accommodations with staff prior to your arrival – just know that we are here to help however we can.
Also note that there are many places throughout the exhibit to sit and rest. From cushions on the floor to sofas and chairs, you do not have to be on your feet for hours on end. There are also several points where it is possible to exit to the lobby so you can visit the restroom, get a snack or beverage at Float Cafe & Bar, browse in the gift shop, or quietly create art in the David Loughridge Learning Center. You can decide to go back into the thick of things as long as you haven’t left the building.
If you’re concerned about getting overstimulated at Meow Wolf (and this is a distinct possibility for many folks), consider picking up a sensory bag at the front desk. What is a sensory bag? The FAQ page says
[s]ensory bags are a tool guests can utilize to aid in their experience inside House of Eternal Return. Each bag can be checked out upon arrival and has items inside to help ground and re-center folks who might feel overstimulated or overwhelmed while inside the exhibit.
Admission to Meow Wolf is what I consider pricey. The regular adult admission price is $30. The regular admission price for a child over the age of four is $20. Children ages four and under enjoy free admission! (Anyone under 14 needs to be accompanied and supervised by a guardian over 18 years old.) Students, seniors 65 and older, and members of the military pay $25 to get in.
If you’re a New Mexico resident, you’re in luck because you get a discount. Cost of admission for adult residents of New Mexico is $25. Children who are residents of New Mexico pay only $15, and the student/senior/military rate for New Mexico residents is $20. However, every Monday and Wednesday night (4-8 PM) and Second Sunday of the month New Mexico residents pay only half off the New Mexico resident admission rate.
While I typically enjoy activities that are free and cheap, I recognize that my admission fee is helping to pay artists and maintain the Meow Wolf facilities. I can tell you that every aspect of Meow Wolf from the restrooms to the tree houses to the cushions on the floor were clean and in perfect working order.
I was also pleasantly surprised that I did not encounter a single person behaving in an obnoxious way. Although there were lots of people at Meow Wolf the day we visited, people were being respectful of one another. Children were having a good time, but no one was screaming or running or annoying strangers. Adults were well-behaved too, and not once did the word asshat run through my mind.
If you haven’t already figured it out, there’s a lot going on at Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. There is an actual, full-size house, complete with portals (hint: there are five) to other dimensions. (And here’s another hint for you: start with the house. You can start in the other dimensions, but for your first time, I HIGHLY recommend you start with the house.)
You will see people stepping into and out of household appliances; you can step through some of them too, if you wish. There’s a mystery you can try to solve as you move through the house. (I’m not sure if it’s possible to solve the mystery or if it is meant to remain unsolved, but look for the clues and decide for yourself.) You can open cabinets in the kitchen and find wondrous things. You can sit in the bathtub or on the toilet of the wavy-floored bathroom. You can look into the cookie jar and see what awaits you there.
Once you move through the portals, you enter fantasy worlds filled with art and music and soft lights and magic. Well, maybe not magic; maybe what you experience is technology cleverly disguised to seem like magic. Even if you’ve never dabbled in psychedelics, you will know you’re in a the midst of some trippy shit.
There’s an entire bus in there and a dinner you wouldn’t want to eat even if you could. There are beams of red light you can play like harp strings (or drums), giant birds, and a multitude of items that will make you wonder WTF?Is it art? you may ask yourself. Does it really matter? It’s beauty and fun and color and experimentation and the chance for childlike wonder.
When we left Meow Wolf (after realizing we’d missed an entire reality but too tired to figure out how to get to it), The Man said he’d enjoyed himself but didn’t really feel the need to ever go back. But the next day, we were still talking about our experiences in the House of Eternal Return, and we both admitted we were excited to explore the place again. (Maybe it’s called the House of Eternal Return because so many visitors want to go back.)
I can’t speak for other people who’ve been there, but The Man and I are saving our pennies so we can visit Meow Wolf again.
I took the photos in this post, except for the very last one. The low light in most of the exhibits and the camera on my cheap phone made for substandard photographs. My apologies.
In the fall of 2019, I found myself in Taos, NM. I tried to park in a parking lot, but my vehicle was just too big for the tiny spaces. I made the block and found a parking spot in front of SOMOS. It was a metered parking space, but I wasn’t going to be long, so I fished a few coins from my pocket to drop in the slot.
SOMOS bills itself as “a place for words in Taos, New Mexico.” The letters in the acronym stand for the “Society of the Muse of the Southwest.” The History section of the group’s About page explains,
…literature has played a prominent role in the area’s rich cultural landscape. As the literary arts flourished, the need for formal community support became apparent, which ultimately led to the nonprofit incorporation of SOMOS…in 1983.
Since then, we have expanded into our present role as a respected literary resource center whose outreach extends to the greater community of Northern New Mexico— and beyond. Our live readings, workshops, conferences, and festivals not only showcase accomplished writers but also encourage creativity in novice writers from all walks of life.
The group’s aforementioned About page says,
[o]ur space has a large room that doubles as a book store and a salon for literary gatherings, two separate classrooms, a ten-space parking lot in back, and lots of on-street parking out front.
I’d never been inside SOMOS, and unfortunately that day I didn’t have time to stop in. My plan was to hop out of my vehicle, drop a few coins in the meter, run my errand, and be on my way. Imagine my delight when, upon stepping toward the parking meter, I saw a Little Free Library in front of the SOMOS building. I certainly had to take a few moments to check out the little library and take a few photos for documentation.
predominantly appear in medium-to-high-income neighborhoods,..are distributed almost exclusively in neighborhoods where 25 percent or more residents have university degrees, [and]…sprout where public library branches are plentiful and where neighborhoods are white.
In reality, these librarian researchers only studied two Canadian cities, Toronto and Calgary.
“Despite the fact that we’ve just done a case study of two Canadian cities that are probably not entirely representative of the locations of Little Free Libraries across the world, they did raise and confirm our suspicions toward the organization,” Hale [one of the librarian researchers] says.
Another book-sharing option is what I call “renegade” Little Free Libraries. The sharing box I discovered in the Santa Fe dog park was labeled “free little library,” not “Little Free Library” and did not have a charter number. While the library in the Mesa, AZ pocket park was labeled “Little Free Library,” it did not seem to be registered with the Little Free Library organization. What I at first thought was a registered LFL in Heritage Square in Flagstaff, AZ sported a sign calling it a “Little Library” and did not have a charter number.
organization filed three separate applications for new trademarks with the U.S. Patent Office regarding the term, ‘Little Free Library,’ used in connection with the words, ‘wooden boxes with a storage area for books,’ and ‘signs, non-luminous and non-mechanical, of metal,’ and ‘guest books and rubber stamps.’
The article goes on to share the point of view of Greig Metzger, the executive director of the Little Free Library organization.
Metzger explains that LFL works with like-minded nonprofits all over the world to advance literacy, and that it provides support for those who want to ‘go their own way” and not register their box with LFL, even providing instructions for those who want to construct their own book boxes rather than purchase them from the organization.
But, he adds, LFL does not condone for-profit businesses…making money off of the concept by selling products using the LFL trademark.
In any case, the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS has no reason to worry because it is registered with charter number 42532. It’s decorated with ravens, a bird seen often in Northern New Mexico, and the flowers and mountains of the region. I love its bright colors.
I didn’t take any books from this library, and unfortunately, I didn’t have any books with me to contribute. I’m glad to know there is another Little Free Library option, this one in the heart of the town of Taos.
I was lying face down in the middle of the trail, crying and whining.
I was not having fun. I did not want to go on.
The Man stood a few feet ahead of me on the trail and looked at me incredulously.
Do you want to quit? he asked, not unkindly. Do you want to go back to camp?
I know he would have accepted it if I had said yes to either or both questions.
I was miserable, but I was also determined or at least stubborn. I hauled myself to my feet and wiped the tears and snot from my face with the sleeve of my tie-dyed button-down shirt.
Let’s keep going, I said.
The whole ordeal started with a camper.
The Man was the camp host a the tiny campground where we stayed that summer. I worked down the road at the store near the trailhead of a popular trail where visitors could get up close and personal with giant sequoias.
One day The Man was talking to one of his campers. The camper told him about the great hike he’d been on. The hike wasn’t very long, only a couple of miles, and the view at the end was amazing. The camper encouraged The Man to go on the hike.
The Man told me about the conversation wit the camper. He asked if I wanted to go on the hike with him on our next day off. I said sure.
I would not call myself a hiker. I like to see natural beauty, and sometimes I have to walk around to do that. I’m not big on elevation changes; I’d rather walk along a flat path. I’m not big on long distances either. Give me a mile loop to conquer, and I’m perfectly happy. A hike consisting of a mile in and mile back is in my comfort zone.
Somehow, I didn’t give much thought to a hike of a couple of miles probably being a four mile round trip. Certainly the camper was a better hiker than I was. Probably a four mile round trip hike was easy for him. It was not easy for me.
Sherman Peak, elevation 9,909 feet, is on the eastern side of Sequoia National Forest on the edge of the Kern Plateau. It affords tremendous 360 degree views of the Great Western Divide, the Sierra Crest including Mt. Whitney, Langley, and Olancha, and a bird’s eye view of the Kern River Canyon and Little Kern River drainage.
I wasn’t in a good mood when we left the campground.
The Man and I were having relationship issues. I wasn’t sure if we would both be able to get our needs met. I felt like I was doing more than my share of the emotional work. I didn’t know how to solve our problems.
I would have preferred staying at our campsite and taking it easy that day. I would have enjoyed working on some blog posts, reading a book, taking a nap. However, The Man seemed to want to go on the hike, and I was pleased that he’d suggested an activity for us to do together, so I said yes.
We got a late start.
When I have an activity planned, I like to get started early. I prefer to start my summer hikes in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. I like to complete my physical activity early so I can spend the afternoon relaxing before cooking and eating dinner.
It was mid-morning before we boarded the minivan and embarked on our journey. The Man drove for a long time before we arrived. As one of the reviewers of the hike on All Trails said, this trail “is a long way from anywhere….”
The Man parked the minivan in the paved parking area at the Sherman Pass Vista. The camper had told The Man this was the best place to leave the vehicle when going on the hike. After making use of the pit toilet in the parking area, we crossed the road and found the sign marking the beginning of the trail.
The hike started our easy. The trail was relatively flat, and we were making good time without overexerting ourselves. Jerico the dog was having a great time.
We soon found that no one had been maintaining the trail. In some places we had difficulty determining where the trail actually was. There were no markers, no cairns. I was afraid we were going to wander off the path, into the forest, and to our eventual deaths. The Man continued to boldly go. I continued to follow.
The trail got worse.
In several places, trees had fallen across the path. A couple of times I had to climb over fallen trees. The Man’s long legs allowed him to step right over the downed trees, but I had to climb on top of each lot, sit in the middle, then swing one leg and then the other over.
In one spot, I had to crawl under a dead tree lying across the path. I’d never before encountered such an obstacle in my limited hiking experience.
Somehow we ended up picking our way through a patch of large rocks. The Man had lost the trail and accidentally brought us through the rocky area. The rocks were all in a jumble, so there wasn’t really space to walk between them. We basically had to walk on top of the rocks or put our feet in the crevices between them. The rocks were jagged, so walking on top of them was not an easy option. I was worried I would slip from the top of a rock and twist an ankle or bust a knee.
When we finally made it out of the rock field and found the trail again, our uphill battle became steeper. We were definitely gaining in elevation now.
It was some time after this that I lay down in the middle of the trail and felt sorry for myself.
Another problem I was having on the hike was that The Man walks a lot faster than I do. He has longer legs. He used to be a runner , so his body has muscle memory of going fast. Also, he’s impatient. He crunches his cough drops before they can dissolve in his mouth, and he surges ahead whenever we’re on a hike together.
Even though he was carrying his guitar so he could play when we reached the summit, he kept leaving me in the dust that day. Before we began the hike, I’d imagined going on an easy walk together. Instead I was looking at the back of my partner’s head in the distance.
Granted, my mood had moved from bad to foul, and I wasn’t pleasant to be around. Hell, I didn’t even want to be with me, but I was stuck. I could understand why The Man wanted to walk ahead and be alone, but feeling abandoned only made my outlook worse.
More than once The Man stopped and waited for me to catch up. Several times he asked if I wanted to turn around and go back to the minivan and head back to the campground. Each time I wanted to quit, I ultimately decided to keep going. I was fully entrenched in the sunk cost fallacy which occurs, according to Behavioral Economics website, when people
continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985).
We’ve come so far, I thought. Surely we’re not far from the top.
The trail took us higher and higher. The Man disappeared around a bend. I sat down again and cried some more.
I stood up and continued up the trail.
The camper had said the view from the peak was excellent. I hoped it would be worth all our struggles.
I came to a point where the trail forked. I could go left or right. The Man was nowhere in sight. Which way should I go?
I picked left more or less at random. I made the right decision. Next thing I knew, the trail had ended. I’d made it to the top! There was The Man and Jerico the dog.
I looked around. We were on the top of an enormous chunk of rock. There was little grass, a few evergreen trees, and some low bushes. One tree with branches low to the ground provided a bit of shade we utilized to get out of the sun.
I looked off into the distance. The view was nice…if a person had never been to Utah and seen the magnificent red rock formations.
To be fair, the view was nice in a California Sierra Nevada way. If I’d never seen that view, I might have been awestruck, but I’d seen what amounted to the same view several times in the prior three years. I’d seen basically that view from Dome Rock half a dozen times. I’d seen that view from Beetle Rock and Moro Rock in the Sequoia National Park. I couldn’t believe I’d just done a treacherous hike and the payoff was something that felt totally familiar.
I’d thrown a few granola bars in my pack before we’d left camp. The Man and I sat in the little shade provided by the evergreen tree with low branches and each scarfed down a couple of granola bars and gulped from our water bottles. The Man took out the guitar he’d carried hundreds of feet up and played a bit, but he didn’t have much energy for jamming. We were both tired, hungry, thirsty, and we still had to walk back to the minivan.
After we’d rested a bit, we looked around. There was a wooden shed up there as well as another little building and what I learned later was a radio transmitter. (I don’t know what it was transmitting or to whom.) The were a couple of large propane tanks up there too, but I don’t know if they were full or what the propane might be used for.
Once we were done poking around at the peak, we began our descent. At least our tired legs didn’t have to climb, although other little used muscles complained about going down. We managed to miss the rock patch this time. The worst was behind us.
Back on the road, we discussed going out of our way to the town with the gas station. We decided it would make more sense to go now while we were halfway there rather than having to go all the way there from our campground later in the week. We knew the fuel in the minivan wouldn’t last another week until we got our next days off and went into town.
If we go into town, I ventured, we could get a pizza.
The Man said he wouldn’t want to wait for dinner once we got back up the mountain. A pizza sounded really good, he said.
He waited in the minivan with Jerico while the air condition kept them cool. I went inside the pizza restaurant to place and pick up our order. The restaurant offered a vegetarian pizza with mushrooms and onions and green peppers and olives and broccoli. That sounded good to me.
I put ice from the soda dispenser in my water bottle and utilized the restroom (complete with a flush toilet and hot running water in the sink) while our pizza was prepared. When it was done, I triumphantly carried it out to the minivan. We devoured the whole thing while the minivan ran and pumped out cool, sweet air conditioned air. It was the best part of the day.
If I haven’t scared you off completely and you would like to hike the Sherman Pass Trail to Sherman Peak, you can find driving directions and lots of other information on the Summit Post webpage mentioned above.
What’s the worst hike you’re ever undertaken? Tell me about it in the comments section below.
The Man and I are doing fine these days, thanks for asking. In fact, we are doing better than ever.
I took the photos in this post. All were taken during the Sherman Peak hike, except for the one of the giant sequoia.
Recently I asked my Patreon patrons what sort of content
they wanted in their monthly email update. One of them responded, “What’s the deal with
Taos, it’s freakin weird…”
I can only speak from my own experiences in Taos during the
last almost-a-decade during which I’ve been in and out of the area, learning
about the place. Why is Taos so freakin’ weird? I have my ideas.
The first thing you need to know is that Taos is both a town and a county. The town of Taos is (perhaps not surprisingly) the county seat of Taos County. The town of Taos has a population just under 5,700 folks while Taos County boasts a whopping 32,795 people.
When I talk about “Taos,” I’m usually speaking about the whole county, including the rural areas surrounding the small town in the mountains of Northern New Mexico with a mean elevation of 8,510 feet [2,590 m] (according to Wikipedia). For example, if someone mentions skiing “in Taos,” that person is not talking about skiing in the town of Taos. There is no skiing in the town of Taos. Skiing “in Taos” really means skiing in the Taos Ski Valley, a village in Taos County about 19 miles northeast of the town of Taos.
Part of what makes Taos weird (or at least interesting) is the mix of people who live there…
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In the Spring of 2018, Nolagirl and I went to Mesa, Arizona for the spark! Festival of Creativity. On our way to and from the festival at the grounds of the Mesa Arts Center, we looked at some of the city’s other public art.
Don’t know much about Mesa, AZ? I didn’t either until I lived and worked in the area on a couple of different occasions and explored the downtown alone and with Nolagirl.
…the 1926 Town Center Clock located at the NE corner of W. Main and Macdonald. This clock was originally across the street at 61 West Main but, was moved to this corner in 1932. The clock mechanism has been updated.
This clock replicates one that stood on the corner outside of the Valley National Bank from 1928 [sic] to 1958. It was a landmark and a gathering place for the downtown area. In the year 2000, the clock was rebuilt by the City of Mesa.
I think that information comes from the plaque at the base of the clock.
This plaque leaves me with more questions than it answers. Why was the clocked moved across the street in 1931? Why was the clock on Main Street for only 32 years? Where was the clock from 1958 until it was rebuilt in 2000? Is this the same clock that stood on the corner until 1958 with only the mechanism updated, or is this clock a replica of the clock that stood there until 1958? Who built the clock? Where was it built? Who gathered at this clock and why?
If the answers are out there, I couldn’t find them.
The Man and I were van camping in Coconino National Forest just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. It was September of 2018. We were hanging out there where it was cool before making our way to our fifth wheel in Why, AZ where it was still hot. Several days a week I drove into town to work on my blog at the public library.
To get from our campsite to the library, I took Highway 180. For part of the way on that road, I could see a sidewalk and houses on my right. One day I noticed there was a Little Free Library in front of one of the houses.
For folks who don’t know, the Little Free Library website says this about Little Free Libraries,
anyone may contribute or take books…If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside.
I love Little Free Libraries and love to visit them. I’ve encountered them in Los Gatos, CA; Mesa and Phoenix, AZ; and Santa Fe and Taos, NM. I was excited to see one in Flagstaff too. I knew I wanted to visit this one before I left town, especially since I had a stack of books I wanted to donate.
On the day I’d decided to visit this particular Little Free
Library (LFL), I had a heck of a time getting to it. The house it belonged to
was the last on a dead end street, so while I could see the house from the
highway, I couldn’t get to it from there. I had to go about half a mile to find
an entrance into the subdivision in which the LFL was located. While I knew the
general direction in which to find the LFL, I hadn’t seen a street sign telling
me its particular location. I drove my big hippie van through the neighborhood
and took several wrong turns down dead end streets and into cul-de-sacs before
I found the right place.
Not long before my visit to Flagstaff a friend living in a
city in the Midwest wanted to build a Little Free Library in front of her home,
but her teenage daughter protested. The girl thought it weird that strangers
would be hanging out in front of her house while browsing through the books in
the LFL. My friend deferred to her daughter’s wishes, delaying her LFL plans until
her kid moves into her own place in a few years. I thought of my friend and her
daughter as I pulled up on the LFL. Was I a weirdo for stopping in front of the
homes of strangers in the pursuit of books? Weren’t Little Free Libraries in
the world to give strangers opportunities to pursue books?
I might not have given it a second thought before, but now it seemed weird to park right in front of the house which hosted the Little Free Library. I decided to park across the street and walk over.
I didn’t feel entirely like a weirdo because I had books to
offer to the LFL. I might be weird for taking, but certainly my character
wouldn’t be questioned since I was making a donation.
The Little Free Library was made from a metal box, probably
the sort that had once held free local papers focusing on arts, culture, and
entertainment. The bottom section of the box now sported a volcano scene. The
volcano had been painted and objects glued on to give the scene three
dimensions. The door of the box had been decorated with a map, but I can’t
remember (or tell from my own photos) what part of the world it depicted. Over
the map someone had written “Little Free Library” so there was no mistaking
what was going on even though the LFL was a renegade, not registered with the
official Little Free Library organization and lacking a charter number.
One side of the box was decorated with numbers, letters, and
symbols. The other side showed a bare-branch tree and an asymmetrical
butterfly. There was plenty of room on that side for more drawings to be added
I looked through the LFL’s offerings, even though I had plenty of books but not much space in my life at the moment. How could a bibliophile pass an offering of free books without even checking to see what was available? Maybe others could do it, but I could not.
Most of the books in the library were for young kids; I
didn’t need those books, so I left them behind for someone who did. I did find
a large hardback book claiming to offer money-saving household tips (As seen on TV, the cover proclaimed.) I
can always use money-saving household tips, so I scooped up that book and took
it with me. (Money-saving household tip #1: Don’t pay for books you can get
from Little Free Libraries.)
I would have been perfectly happy even if I hadn’t gotten a book from the LFL. I am happy enough just to visit Little Free Libraries, to see how they are decorated, to appreciate the unique qualities of each one, to see them housing books that folks can come and take with no out-of-pocket expense. I’m also happy when I can share books I no longer need or want by dropping them off in a Little Free Library. Getting a book from a LFL is really just a bonus.
Little Free Libraries are part of the gift economy of books. Anyone can leave a book in a Little Free Library and anyone can take a book too! Some LFLs are “official.” The Little Free Library FAQ says,
The LFL on 5th Street was what I call a renegade Little Free Library. It didn’t have an official sign, much less a charter number. Someone built a box, added a door and a peaked roof, then mounted it on a pole, filled with books, and gave it to the world. The words on it (“Little Free Library, “Take a book…,” and “Leave a book…”) were painted by hand, and its yellow paint was peeling, but this was just as much a labor of love as a registered LFL that shows up on the organization’s official map.
Don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate registered Little
Free Libraries too. I appreciate what the Little Free Library organization does
to help get more LFLs out in the world. I appreciate the support the Little
Free Library organization gives to LFL stewards. But I’d be less than honest if
I didn’t admit right here that there’s a special place in my heart for renegade
Little Free Libraries. I so appreciate these DIY projects that don’t cost more
than materials and the time it takes a person to put them together, these
manifestations of gift economy erected so neighbors have access to free reading
Most of the LFLs I’ve visited have been registered and have
charter numbers, but there are definitely other renegades in the world. I bet
many towns have official LFLS and renegades too.
Honestly, if I were going to build a Little Free Library and
keep it stocked (in other words, be a LFL steward), I would go the DIY, renegade
route. That’s just the way I am. I definitely have love for the people who do
LFLs the official way, but I’ve got a special love for the LFL renegades.
(As for why I don’t build a LFL and be its steward, I live in a very rural area. There is only one homestead on the road past our house, so not many people would see my Little Free Library if I had one in front of my place. Also, there’s a Little Free Library only a few miles from my house, just past where the dirt road hits the pavement. It makes a lot more sense to offer the books and magazines I don’t need any more to that LFL and others around town.)
I like to visit places other than the usual crowded tourist destinations. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to see what the huddled masses are looking at in the conservatory at Bellagio or in the depths of Carlsbad Caverns, but I prefer to stay off the beaten path. One such unusual discovery was Zzyzx, California.
According to Wikipedia, Zzyzx is an unincorporated community in San Bernardino County. It was formerly known as Soda Springs.
I know I saw the exit sign on I-15 when I passed that way in mid-October of 2015, but I didn’t stop. I probably wondered about the name, but I was in a hurry to get to my friends in Las Vegas, so I kept driving. During some period of research, (probably of the giant thermometer or the Alien Fresh Jerky shop, both in Baker, CA), I saw a link about Zzyzx on the Roadside America website.
On the edge of a dry lake bed, you’ll find a bizarre pseudo-town: “Zzyzx” (pronounced “Zye – Zex,” rhyming with Isaac’s). Travelers between Las Vegas and Los Angeles sometimes stop in the Mojave Desert along I-15 to pose next to the novel highway sign for Zzyzx Road. But few realize that heading several miles down a narrow, mostly paved route will deliver them to an oasis with an oddball history…
LA radio evangelist Curtis H. Springer, self-proclaimed minister (and quack doctor), decided the [oasis was] the ideal location for a health resort. He and his wife filed a mining claim on a 12,800 acre parcel of what were public lands. He named it “Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Resort,” touted as “the last word in health” and the last word in the English language — a gimmick so it would be the last listing in any directory…
Most of the concrete buildings still stand. You’ll find a mix of well-maintained structures…and then complete derelict buildings along the shore…There are a couple of low concrete buildings, doors and windows gone… one with a mysterious row of unattached toilets.
Well that sounded interesting, so I added Zzyzx to my mental
list of places I wanted to visit someday.
In December 2016, I was once again on I-15, making my way to Vegas. This time I planned to make a side trip to Zzyzx.
I found the grounds of the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa had been taken over by the Desert Studies Center, a field station of California State University. The good folks of the Desert Studies Center apparently cleaned up the grounds; gone were the mysterious toilets mentioned by Roadside America. In fact, a casual tourist might not realize the place was once a health spa run by a man many would call a charlatan if not for the informational signs in the parking lot. Of course, there are probably few casual tourists in Zzyzx. Perhaps a few curious souls are pulled off the interstate by the strange word on the exit sign, but most people who make the 4.5 mile drive from the exit to the Desert Studies Center campus have either heard about the center or the colorful past of the mineral springs and spa.
I left Barstow around sunrise so I could visit Zzyzx early
in the day, and I was glad I did. Although my visit happened in early December,
the desert sun was already hot by mid-morning. I wore my sunhat and wandered
around the grounds.
Conferences are held at the Desert Studies Center with attendees housed in the rooms where folks who came to take the waters (a scam, the aforementioned Roadside America article explains: “The ‘natural’ hot springs feeding..mineral baths were completely artificial, heated by a hidden boiler”) and otherwise get healthy once stayed. On the morning of my visit, young adults (high school seniors? college freshmen?) were clearing out of the guest rooms and packing their luggage into the vans that had brought them to this desert spot. I thought someday I wanted to attend a conference there so I could sleep in one of the cute little rooms.
Other buildings left over from the health spa days are also
used by the Desert Studies Center. The Main Building seemed to house
administrative offices, but there was also an area open to visitors with
several informational exhibits which, quite frankly, looked like they began
their existence as 1990s era high school social studies fair projects. The most
interesting exhibit featured early settler artifacts found in the area. Other
exhibits were about local plants and animals and the history of the twenty-mule
teams that ferried borax out of Death Valley in the 1880s.
Lake Tuendae is on the property too, making the area a literal oasis in the desert. The aforementioned Wikipedia article says the lake is really an artificial pond and is now a “refuge habitat of the endangered Mohave Tui chub.”
I probably spent about two hours walking around the old site of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa. I enjoyed learning about its place in the history of U.S. health scams, and I enjoyed looking at Lake Tuendae and the educational exhibits in the visitor area of the Main Building. Mostly, I enjoyed knowing I could now say I’d visited a place whose name most folks will never be able to pronounce and even fewer will ever visit.
You can find directions to Zzyzx on the Roadside America website. That site also has a lot of information on the history of the place.
Nolagirl and I were at the Grand Avenue Festival in November
of 2017. As we walked down the avenue looking at public art and popping into
galleries to see the cool pieces on display, we came across a Little Free
If you don’t already know from reading my blog or from your own experience, Wikipedia says,
Like other public book exchanges, a passerby can take a book to read or leave one for someone else to find. The [Little Free Library] organization relies on volunteer “stewards” to construct, install, and maintain book exchange boxes. For a book exchange box to be registered, and legally use the Little Free Library brand name, stewards must purchase a finished book exchange, a kit or, for a DIY project, a charter sign, which contains the “Little Free Library” text and official charter number.
The LFL we encountered on Grand Avenue was not your everyday
Little Free Library, not at all! It was a Little FREEK [sic] Library. Someone
came along and with one letter changed this registered Little Free Library
(charter #5315) into a Little Freek Library.
I know I’ve said in the past that anyone who would steal or vandalize a Little Free Library has problems
and needs prayers, but I’m not upset that someone with a Sharpie turned a
Little Free Library into a Little Freek Library. In fact, I think it’s
hilarious. I guess I’m a hypocrite. Oh well.
This “vandalizing” doesn’t upset me because I don’t think this “vandalizing” hurts anyone. It’s not like the “vandal” wrote anything vulgar or offensive on the LFL. There’s no hate speech here, no drawings of Nazi swastikas, no racism or misogyny, just the request to “celebrate freakier neighborhoods.” I just can’t argue with that. I think freakier neighborhoods (and freakier neighbors, for that matter) do need to be celebrated, especially in places like Phoenix that can seem very mainstream and somewhat boring (at least to me).
There were only a couple of books in the Little Freek
Library, and they seemed old and in poor condition. I wished I had a few books
with me to contribute to this LFL. It really needed some book love.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to revisit this LFL before I left town.
I’ve visited Little Free Libraries in Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe and Taos, NM; Flagstaff and Mesa, AZ; and others in Phoenix too, but this was my first Little Freek Library. I was pretty excited to have stumbled across. Let your freek flag fly, Little Free Library on Grand Avenue. Let your freek flag fly.