• Thanks-Giving Square

    Thanks Giving Square
    Thanks Giving Square
    Thanks Giving Square

    Thanks-Giving Square is a public/private park featuring a shell-shaped non-denominational worship room with an incredible series of stained glass skylights.

    The square itself could almost be mistaken for any other public plaza, were it not for this odd building in the corner. After walking up a spiral ramp there’s a doorway into the chapel-like space which features a few chairs, an alter that’s a big cube of solid marble, and a piano that’s used for funeral services and such.

    It’s free and almost always open to the public.

    The park outside is also worth strolling through, though unfortunately part of the water feature was not functioning during my visit to Dallas.

  • Eye, aka “the giant eyeball” in downtown Dallas

    Giant Eyeball

    After my trip to Santa Fe, I hopped on a plane and then a DART light rail train to downtown Dallas. After dropping off my bags at my Airbnb I walked down the street to see it: the giant eye sculpture at 1601 Main Street.

    This mixed media sculpture was created by American artist Tony Tasset based on photos of his own eye, and originally debuted in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood. Eventually it wound up at this site which previously was the home of an abandoned office tower.

    The Eye is part of the luxurious Joule hotel in Dallas, where rooms typically start at about $500/night and and can go well beyond that. This sculpture is part of a private outdoor event space located right across the street from the hotel and is often used for weddings.

    Giant Eyeball

    Would you want to get married next to a sculpture of a giant eye? Well… me neither, but apparently some people do.

    Although the event space is not open to the public, the eye is clearly visible both from its Main Street address as well as the pedestrian alley around the corner.

  • Santa Fe wrap up and stray observations

    Santa Fe street art

    I have a lot of thoughts on Santa Fe but I’ll start with the basic info you need to know.

    The basics

    Santa Fe is at an extremely high elevation — higher than Denver — and as such you will get winded from the thin atmosphere, even just from a long walk. It takes some getting used to, the important thing is to pace yourself.

    The summer weather is challenging to prepare for. First of all, it gets very dry. I kept getting bloody noses, and while the saline nasal spray helped it didn’t entirely resolve the problem.

    Second, the heat isn’t necessarily that bad. Although it might be 95 F out, when there’s a breeze it’s fine. Believe it or not, some locals don’t even have air conditioning.

    My last point about the weather is the summer monsoons. They came very late this year and I only caught the start of it. What happens is it’ll be a warm sunny day, and then suddenly there’s a huge thunderstorm with a bunch of rain, and then it’s warm and sunny again. I managed to get by without an umbrella, but your luck may vary.


    Fewer than 90,000 people actually live in Santa Fe, and many are retirees. The main industry is tourism and related service industries. This leads to an unusual situation where there are many top notch museums, activities, restaurants, etc. that primarily exist to serve non-locals. Though admittedly, Albuquerque is significantly larger and only about an hour away.

    Speaking of which, in order to visit Santa Fe you’ll probably have to fly to Albuquerque as it has a major airport. Santa Fe does have an airport, but it only has one terminal with one gate, and the runway is too small for larger jets.

    Downtown near Santa Fe Plaza there are numerous artisans selling their stuff outside, and pricier indoor galleries as well. As is often the case with this kind of arrangement there’s a ton of overpriced tacky junk that was probably made in China. However, one thing unique to the area are the Native Americans selling homemade jewelry — look for the sellers outside the Palace of the Governors. This should go without saying, but you do not photograph Native Americans without their permission.

    Santa Fe Plaza
    Santa Fe Plaza, downtown Santa Fe

    The food

    Despite many rave reviews of the local cuisine… I wasn’t very impressed, to be honest. I even went on a food tour and it just drove the point home even more: all the local dishes are very same-y.

    I also developed an irrational hatred of the locals insisting on calling getting one item with green chili and another with red chili as “Christmas.” That’s goddamn irritating.

    This isn’t to say you can’t find good food in Santa Fe. I found perfectly good traditional Mexican food, a French cafe, etc. all over town. But I’d skip the seafood as the nearest body of water is quite far. Also whatever an “Oriental” restaurant is… no.


    There isn’t any. Almost everything closes at 9 PM. There’s a couple bars open a bit later than that but not a lot later. Your best bet is to go read a book or watch TV or something.

    Getting around

    For the most part I walked around Santa Fe, only taking Lyft rides to get to and from Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. It’s a pretty compact city and I’d say the most walkable areas are downtown and the Santa Fe Railyard area.

    However… there’s a couple big gotchas here. First, the streets and sidewalks are not always well paved, and the sidewalks are rarely ADA compliant. Some of the paving was in such horrible shape I thought it was gravel at first.

    Second, although it’s an older city with a lot of smaller streets, they made the same post-WWII mistake many cities made and installed extremely wide streets (aka “stroads”) that are not pedestrian friendly at all. The odd thing is there’s often so little car traffic on these huge multi-lane roads that you can just cross wherever you want. It’s like they were building for a future that never came to pass.

    Santa Fe Railyard
    Santa Fe Railyard
    Santa Fe Railyard

    The Railyard

    One of the newer neighborhoods is the Santa Fe Railyard, a former railyard (no points for guessing that) which is now home to a large farmer’s market, housing, art, and a few places to eat and drink.

    I was surprised to find how close this was to where I was staying and wish I found it sooner — especially the farmer’s market which had a surprising diversity of food considering, you know, it’s in the desert.

    Funnily enough, the Railyard was successful enough that it got… wait for it… a train station. You can’t make stuff like this up.

  • Spoilers: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return

    House of Eternal Return

    Previously I reviewed Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return without any spoilers. Well now it’s time for the deep dive with plenty of spoilers.

    Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


    Once you’ve entered and received a wrist band, you can head to the bathrooms in the back, an art room mostly aimed at kids, the gift shop, the cafe, and most importantly: the exhibit itself.

    Upon entering the exhibit you’re presented with the house and a somewhat foreboding soundtrack. From here you can go to all three parts of the exhibit, but you should check out the mailbox first.

    The obvious place to go is inside the house, which will take you to an entryway that leads to the staircase in the middle, a study/art room to the immediate left, and the living room to the right. If you go to the right you’ll also see the dining room and kitchen, and the laundry room just past the kitchen.


    The house has a number of secret passages: the coat rack, the fireplace, the fridge, and the washing machine all lead outside of the “prime” world of the house. But you don’t even need to enter the house at all.

    From outside, if you go to the left you’ll enter Portals Bermuda (also accessible via the fridge and coat rack) and to the right you’ll enter a colorful forest that takes you to the Multiverse (all other passages.)

    This is not a complete list of secret passages; you will have to find that on your own.


    Okay. So. I’m going to attempt to tell an abridged version of the central story. This story is told incrementally through dairies, letters, videos, and other such items left behind in the house. It’s up to you to piece them together and figure out the story — or you can read on and have it spoiled for you.

    During the Vietnam War, Emerson (the grandfather) met a Viet Cong soldier known as Seventeen who owned a sonic device that could somehow bring people back to life. As a fellow “child of the Anomaly,” Emerson continued to study this technology after the war at his job at Bell Labs.

    When the family pet hamster died, Emerson used this sonic technology to resurrect the hamster — but in doing so, his son Lucius grabbed the hamster and neither were ever the same. While the hamster slowly turned into a robot, Lucius gained the ability to jump between realities (or “astral project”) and could bring others on his other-worldly travels. He wrote a self-help book about his experiences and eventually created a world called “Portals Bermuda” which he intended to bring others to.

    Unfortunately for him, a course-correcting force called The Charter scuttled those plans and eventually stripped Lucius of his powers altogether.

    This power vacuum led Lucius back to his childhood home, where his sister Piper was raising her children including his nephew named Lex.

    Lucius befriended Lex, and upon telling Lex about these other worlds, he coaxed Lex into firing the experimental technology at him in an attempt to regain his powers. Unfortunately this backfired, and Lex began to fade away into “the fog” before he disappeared entirely.

    Upon discovery of what had happened, Lucius was thrown out and the family decided to try to bring Lex back — no matter what. His mom, Piper, knew this would end badly but continued anyway.

    Later a government agency scooped up the doomed family home from Mendocino, California and placed it in a warehouse in Santa Fe.

    Would I recommend going? Yes! But let’s talk about why and some potential caveats.


    The House of Eternal Return has been around for seven years now and as such they’ve had plenty of time to work out the kinks. There’s still a couple of rough edges, however.

    I mentioned this in my spoiler-free review, but the space is not wheelchair friendly. In fact, if you’re not flexible enough or too overweight, you can still enjoy it but you won’t be able to explore a few tighter spaces.


    This entire thing is an incredible work of art, and being Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation it’s been lovingly updated and maintained. Just recently for example they added a new room made entirely of discarded objects — the floor is paved with bottle caps, the art on the walls is made from anything from used dolls to old floppy disks. So even if you’ve been before, you might find something new.

    The space is very easy to get lost in, and I say this as someone with a pretty good sense of direction. Once you’re out of the house area, there aren’t many walls built at 90 degree angles.

    It took me two lengthy visits to get to the point where I was mostly certain I’d seen everything. But I’m not entirely sure about that.

    The story goes into quite a bit of depth. The story about the family is largely confined to the house, with the secondary story about The Charter vs. The Anomaly playing out in the wild Metaverse area in the back.

    On my second visit they were having a scavenger hunt. No idea if they’ll do it again but I’d recommend trying it out if you’ve already been before and have your bearings. If it’s all new to you, you’re better off exploring the space and uncovering the story.

    My takeaways

    This installation is already legendary in the world of immersive experiences and it’s easy to see why: there’s always something to do, things to look at, music to listen to, etc. If you’re lucky there will be live music in the large room in the back.

    The fact that this place has been around for a few years now and still draws crowds proves there’s an audience for this type of of experience, even in a small sleepy town like Santa Fe. That’s extremely encouraging, particularly when you consider this type of art didn’t even exist until very recently.

    This was my second visit to a Meow Wolf installation after I visited Omega Mart two years ago. And I have a visit to a third one planned soon. Very soon. Stay tuned.

  • Hot air balloon ride

    I have a bad habit of keeping a bucket list in my head… a bucket list that grows longer and longer by the day.

    But there’s one thing I’ve always kept near the top of that bucket list: riding in a hot air balloon.

    Well here’s the thing: thanks to Santa Fe Balloons I was finally able to hop in a big wicker basket and do exactly that.

    Now when I say “ride” I want to make something clear: my dream has always been to go somewhere — anywhere — rather than going on some silly tethered up and down, elevator-style hot air balloon ride. This was not one of those silly tethered rides where the hot air balloon is tied to a rope the whole time. Oh no.

    Hot air balloon tour

    Like most hot air balloon rides this started out well before the crack of dawn. The four of us in the group were driven between two federally owned (BLM) spots near Santa Fe to check the winds by sending helium balloons up into the sky.

    Hot air balloon tour

    Once the pilot, a Texan named Josh, was comfortable with the weather he got together with the crew inflating a small balloon named “Cupcake.”

    The inflation was largely performed with a big fan before the balloon and basket were tipped upwards.

    Hot air balloon tour

    Once you’ve climbed into the basket, taking off and flying in a hot air balloon is surprisingly peaceful. The “burners” can be loud and hot, and the first time you look directly down over the side might be scary.

    And yet you’re moving so slowly and gently that it’s all calm and relaxing.

    Hot air balloon tour

    After we landed and the crew came out to help, Josh set out some snacks and sparkling wine and told us the history of hot air ballooning. According to him we travel with sparkling wine so that if we land in an unexpected area, we have a peace offering to avoid trespassing charges. This allegedly goes back to the early days of ballooning in France, shortly before the French revolution.

    My recommendation: I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It’s around $300/person at Santa Fe Balloons. More than worth it for an unforgettable experience.

  • Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

    While in downtown Santa Fe, I visited the small yet well put together Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

    Georgia O’Keeffe is often described as the “mother of American Modernism” as she was an important 20th century American artist. Best remembered for her abstract oil paintings of flowers and animal skulls, her works encompassed far more: charcoal drawings, watercolors, paintings from her extensive travels, sculpture — and even an unpublished cookbook.

    Let’s back up a moment. O’Keeffe lived the latter years of her life in New Mexico, but that’s not where she started out. To give a brief recap, she grew up on a farm, eventually got into prestigious art schools, became a high school art teacher, and had an affair with the (older, married) photographer who discovered her and made her famous. They eventually got married.

    Again, this wasn’t that long ago so it was all tabloid “news” at the time.

    Another tabloid scandal? O’Keeffe’s flower paintings were described as looking like female genitalia, a claim she categorically denied and blamed on male gaze.

    Normally I’m not a big fan of single-artist museums. To me a museum shouldn’t just be about bringing art to the masses, it should put the art in context and look at it critically. The thing about the O’Keeffe Museum is that it doesn’t have the luxury of time to sand away the rough parts of her life — there are still people alive today who knew her, some of which speak on the museum’s audio guide.

    Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

    The most interesting thing about the museum to me was seeing some of the works that don’t easily fit into O’Keeffe’s periods of well known works, such as the painting she made of Mount Fuji above while she was visiting Japan. It’s somehow both recognizable as an O’Keeffe, and yet if you tried to sell me this on the street I’m not sure I’d believe you.

    My recommendation: This small museum punches far above its weight with well put together presentations and an audio guide (download the free app on your phone.) Price is very reasonable, if you’re interested in this era of American art I highly recommend it.

  • Review: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return (No Spoilers)

    If you read my previous posts about Omega Mart, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I had to travel to Santa Fe to check out Meow Wolf’s original permanent installation: The House of Eternal Return.

    As you may have heard, this installation was built in a defunct bowling alley building and was sponsored initially in large part by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin.

    This review will be free of any major spoilers. Look forward to a very spoiler-y companion post in the future.

    House of Eternal Return

    What is The House of Eternal Return?

    The House of Eternal Return starts out as a modest two story family home — both in facade and interiors — although it becomes quickly clear that something isn’t quite right. Parts of the home are damaged, warped, and seem to be advertising a self-help program that sounds like a cult.

    Clearly there’s something more going on here, and as a participant it’s up to you to uncover the truth.

    Or at least, whatever counts as “truth” in a place like this.

    House of Eternal Return

    Practical stuff

    The House of Eternal Return is located in a part of Santa Fe that realistically isn’t walkable from where most tourists (or even locals) will be staying. Most people drive or take a taxi/rideshare. It’s technically possible to take public transit but good luck with that in Santa Fe.

    Tickets are available in advance, with various upsell options. I’d recommend buying the tickets ahead of time, which is what most people do. The upsell options include some silly “3D” glasses, “arcade tokens” that you can also buy on site, and other unnecessary stuff that you can safely skip. I borrowed the 3D glasses from someone who paid extra and didn’t see any particular difference.

    The House of Eternal Return allows phones, personal cameras, and (empty!) water bottles which can be refilled inside. Small lockers are available for a fee, and weapons of any kind are not allowed.

    Bathrooms, the cafe, and the gift shop are all located within the building but outside of the exhibit area. You’re free to enter and exit the exhibit once you’ve been checked in and have a wristband — however you cannot re-enter once you have exited the building.

    Those with physical disabilities may encounter problems. There are no elevators to the second floor and many passages are narrow. I saw a few people who seemed to get by with a cane, but if you need a walker or wheelchair this won’t work for you.

    Aside from certain nights this is an all-ages experience. However, younger children must be supervised and may not get much out of it. The story involves some patience to understand and seems written for a young-adult audience and above.

    Mild content warning: the death of a family pet is involved.

    House of Eternal Return

    My experience

    I knew I had to come here after visiting Omega Mart a couple years ago. What I was a little surprised to find were the similarities: a story set in a semi-sane physical space with numerous secret passages that lead to wildly imaginative and absurd spaces.

    The main difference is in the storytelling methodology. Although the House of Eternal Return includes some straightforward video elements (as of 2023) the greater story details require a much greater deal of time from the audience to sit and read physical documents. Whether or not that’s a desirable aspect is going to depend entirely on your personality.

    I visited twice, both for about four hours each. This was more than enough to decipher the major plot points. My second visit was for a scavenger hunt (their first ever — I beat it but did not win the prize raffle) but was also an excuse to capture photos and video footage after most people had left.

    That said, some of the spaces are so well hidden that I only discovered them well into my second visit. And there were spaces I’m nowhere near flexible enough to fit into (note to self: do more stretching exercises.)

    From what others have told me, this entire exhibit has gone through multiple iterations. I found various details like web links and even a phone number that no longer appear to function, presumably leftovers from the past. These were inconvenient but the story seemed complete without them.

    My recommendation: This is an amazing space with a truly creative story that unfolds in great depth as you explore. I recommend going during off-peak hours (early or late) to get the most of it. If you have to choose between House and Omega Mart I’d say this has a more satisfying story but Omega Mart has an easier to follow story and is more physically accessible.

  • Inside San Francisco’s Cable Car Shop

    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop

    Last week I was lucky enough to get a rare glimpse inside the workshop where the most worn out San Francisco cable cars are sent to be restored — if not rebuilt. This was part of a tour offered by Muni, San Francisco’s public transit agency, in conjunction with the non-profit Market Street Railway to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the cable cars.

    But let’s back up a moment, because there’s a few things to unpack here.

    While the cable car system is 150 years old, the cable cars themselves only last as long as the wood they’re made from. Although regular maintenance keeps them in service for decades both time and weather will always take their toll eventually.

    At some point all the cable cars have to be taken apart and rebuilt. And that’s where the cable car shop comes in. All of the woodworking is performed in-house by a small team of carpenters at this shop in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

    The tour was inside the main room of the workshop itself, which isn’t normally open to the public. The shop was on an extended break during the tour as it obviously wouldn’t be safe to have the public in there while dangerous and loud machinery is in use.

    On my visit there were two cable cars in the shop: the number 18 which they’ve mostly finished rebuilding, and a former car labeled 60 which was being disassembled and appeared to be in poor shape.

    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop

    The brass parts are not made or restored at the shop; instead those are sent to other companies around the Bay Area that specialize in metal work. The parts that can be salvaged are sent off to be refinished. When new parts are required, the shop can pull out the molds and send them off to have new parts cast.

    The photo of the bell above is the one used in the cable car bell ringing contest, and there’s a photo of the cast of the bell below it.

    If like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz every part of a cable car can be replaced, what does it even mean to be original or authentic? Who am I to say; that’s a philosophical question for the ages.

    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop
    Cable Car Shop

    The most amazing fact about this entire operation is that it’s still performed here, in an expensive city, by a team of union contractors employed by the people. But then again, if you need to fix a cable car it’s not like you can go on Amazon and order new parts. This is more akin to having custom cabinets made for your kitchen… if those cabinets had to last 40+ years outside and get lugged up and down hills all day.

    I should mention the brakes. As with most trains the cable cars have metal wheels so they cannot brake quickly while maintaining traction, especially on hills — in other words they may slide. There are many solutions to this but the important one here is called a “track brake.” This is a wide term used for any type of train brake that uses the track itself instead of the wheels to decrease speed.

    The cable cars use several pieces of wood mechanically pressed against the tracks as a brake. Depending on the weather these wooden track brakes last anywhere from nearly a week down to only a single day. Muni’s cable car shop makes these brakes on a regular basis and keeps a large stock on hand.

    Cable Car Shop

    The funny red vehicle in the photo above is a tiny automobile built for pushing the cable cars around the shop. As you have have noticed the tracks in the shop don’t even have a slot for the cables. So they rely on this weird old car with a Ford Model A engine. Hey if it works it works.

    All of this made me realize I don’t know nearly as much about the cable cars as I thought I did. Here are a few other things I learned that didn’t fit in anywhere else:

    Miscellaneous factoids

    • There’s a smaller team of cable car carpenters who work in the maintenance facility at the Cable Car Museum.
    • They call the bell on top of the cable car a “gong” to differentiate it from the small bells the conductor rings inside the car.
    • The sign outside the cable car shop says “San Francisco Municipal Transit System.” However, Muni is actually short for “San Francisco Municipal Railway.”
    • The electric lights in today’s cable cars are powered by batteries under the seats. This lighting system replaced the original kerosene lanterns for obvious safety reasons.
    • On the two Powell St. lines it used to be difficult to change the sign on the top of the car. At some point in the 1970’s a Muni employee invented a manual lever that lets them easily flip between the two.
    • Possible spoiler(?) but tucked away in a storage shed somewhere are some freshly rebuilt cable cars that haven’t been used yet.
    • The tour only included the first floor. Not sure what was on the second floor area but it wasn’t big enough to be hiding any cable cars.
    • Tony Bennett, who infamously “left his heart in San Francisco” happened to pass away the same day I took this tour. In a strange coincidence, the number 18 cable car being rebuilt was originally numbered 518 and SF Gate has a photo of Bennett standing in front of it in 1967.

  • 2nd floor bathrooms are currently out of service

    Bathroom installation
    Spotted near Showplace Square

  • There is nothing permanent except change

    You may have noticed things are looking a little different around here now. To refresh your memory, here’s what this website looked like just yesterday:

    In the 14 years since I’ve started this blog, I think it would be fair to say that a new theme had been overdue for some time. It never worked that great on mobile which I’ve heard is kind of a big deal now.

    The new layout is not radically different, although some things may be slightly broken — and hopefully others much less broken. Most notably if you’re browsing on smaller or narrower screens, the stuff in the sidebar will now appear at the bottom of the page.

    The most obvious difference is I’ve upped the size of the text to match modern screen sizes. The most obvious problem is that some images now overflow. I’ll eventually get around to fixing those but it won’t happen immediately. In the meantime, hopefully that won’t ruin anyone’s day.

    We’ll see how this version of the site ages — check back in 14 years from now in 2037 and we’ll see if the world still exists by then.