All Ears on Deck!

Monday, August 16, 1998, Arasapha Farm, Gradyville, Pennsylvania - You'd think the entire Quaker State has gone mad, running through cornfields like a gang of kids. Someone let me know if this maize maze craze (sheeesh, look what they've done to me!) has caught on around the country or if the Pennsylvanians are just loopy for getting lost.

This idea goes back millennia to ancient Rome and Greece, when, legend says, labyrinths were made in tombs and caves. More recent misdirection came as a maze planted at Hampton Court Palace in London during the late 1600's reign of William III.

A maze is a labyrinth using large plants, usually hedges, to make a winding, confusing pathway that sends you every which way before it sends you right again. These days, they just cut a path through a cornfield. Sure, it wastes a lot of seed, but it's still great fun and you can make a different one each year.

One of the newest entries in this... phase, is Arasapha Farms. Owner Randy Bates has made two mazes this year - his second season creating these corn-traptions (sorry). Folks come from all around to wander through his field and he gets a thrill out of sending them in the wrong direction.

Bates has a lot of fun with this sort of thing. Leading people to the point of annoyance and charging them money for it is nothing new for him. This will be his eighth season hosting the Haunted Hay ride on his farm. Last year he drove 25,000 people around his farm, driving them nearly crazy.

"You could sit in the field and listen," he tells me. "We'd have several groups being pulled around the farm and you could hear the screams from all over."

Bates' maze is made in the shape of the Titanic ocean liner and as you make your way through it, you encounter signs telling you that you are in the engine room, or on the bridge, or even in the smokestack of all places.

I wandered into the Titanic Maze just to get a feel for it, and soon got caught up in the challenge, loping down the pathway like a true corn-testant (really sorry). By the time I made it to the bridge I was hooked and I vowed to make it off of this ship alive.

Crossroads at the First-Class Cabin

Bates gives you just enough help to keep you going, but little enough to keep you corn-fused (someone slap me). At ten places in the maze he has posted maps of the entire corn-glomeration (I give up) so you can get a glance at precisely where you need to go and make yourself mental directions before you run off and forget the whole thing.

"Last year we gave out maps, but people would finish too quickly," Bates says. "They'd come out and say; 'Hey, five bucks and it only took me twenty minutes!' So I'd take their map away and send them back in. They enjoyed it more then."

Stumbling through the aft smokestack for the third time, without a kernal of hope, I realize that this maze is just like This Crazy Trip I'm taking. It seems that, every day, I get lost, I get directions, I forget them, I get lost again, I get...

Down around the engine room, I begin to regret not bringing my flare gun. I've been scurrying like a rat in the galley and the heat is about to knock me uncorn-cious. Don't tell Randy Bates this, but I'm gonna cheat. I'll cut across one of his stupid rows of corn - I'm desperate! Of course, after I do this, I walk about fifty yards before I realize that I should not have cut across the row and that I now have to go right back to where I started. "C'mon, Mark," I plead with myself. "Corn-centrate!"

How does one make a corn maze? Well, according to Bates, you design it all on paper first. Then, when the corn is about three feet tall, you head out there with a Weed Wacker armed with a metal blade and you cut. "My boys helped me," he says. "They would stand at the point where I needed to cut to and I would just cut toward them." Since the corn is planted in rows, it is easy to use a grid system.

Then you put up posters everywhere, get permits from your town and hope for the best. Bates has quite a following with his hay ride, so he hopes to have about three thousand head stumbling through his ears this summer (that's farm-speak).

Bates is fighting a battle similar to many small farmers these days. It takes a farm of hundreds of acres to make a decent living, he says. Since he has less then one hundred acres, he finds other means of income. He gives between 150 and 200 tours of his farm to school children each year and he raises exotic animals, such as ring neck pheasants and rheas (like ostriches) as well as the traditional farm animals, like sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs and yes, even a cow.

These animals get to eat the corn from the maze after it closes at the end of October and Bates takes a tractor to it. He destroys all his work after the season, like it were just a sand castle. The entire Bates family pitches in throughout the year. Randy and Anne Bates have five helpful children; Drew, Katie, Veronica, Ben and Diana.

After an hour and a half I make it back to shore. Most people take a little more than one hour and they walk about three miles, according to Bates. You won't meet any ancient Romans or Greeks, but it's a good time and good excersize - just bring comfortable shoes, water and a couple of flares.

The "Titanic Corn Maze" at Arasapha Farms, near Philadelphia.
The small maze to the right is the "Honey Bear" maze for children.

Photo courtesy Arasapha Farms and Cloud Nine Photography.

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