The Moorpark maze lent just the right amount of Halloween cornfusion.
Jennifer McDowell stared at a row of 9-foot-high cornstalks. “This way … or that way?” she wondered aloud, looking left and right. She and friend Artin Stepian had already taken three wrong turns through the maze, hitting dead ends and trail markers they’d passed moments ago.
It might sound like your worst nightmare, but for McDowell and Stepian, the annual corn maze at Underwood Family Farms’ Fall Harvest Festival in Moorpark about 50 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles is pure fun — and a sign that fall has arrived.
Underwood Farm’s first fall festival was held in 1997, and the corn maze came after. Back then, there weren’t any helpful hints for lost visitors. There was a separate entrance and exit, which contributed to frantic moments for parents who had no idea where to look for kids wandering amid the cornstalks, farm manager and maze designer Russell Blades said. He learned from the experience.
Today, Underwood’s corn maze has aerial photos throughout the route to offer clues, and at least one guide is always on duty to rescue the lost, Blades added.
For the kids, there are also 12 Jack and the Cornstalk passages posted as trail markers throughout.
Because the maze spans just 2 acres (compared with some 30-acre mazes in the Midwest), Blades said most people make it out within half an hour and in good spirits. However, he did once get a call an hour after closing time saying that a group was still trapped inside.
As for McDowell, 39, and Stepian, 37, both of Burbank, this was their third year in the maze, so McDowell could sense that they were nearing the hay pyramid at the end, where they climbed onto a bale of hay for a triumphant view of the cornstalks and a photo.
It took the third-timers all of 20 minutes to get through the maze, and despite the trial and error, their journey was frustration-free.
This seemed true for most people who traversed the maze that Saturday. Kids seemed more concerned about running into monsters — and parents about keeping their kids within sight — than getting lost among the stalks.
Why does anyone like getting lost in a corn maze, even temporarily?
After all, they can be hot, dirty and confusing.
But mazes and labyrinths have captured the human imagination for thousands of years. (Corn mazes are an American twist credited by many to creative visionary Don Frantz. He launched the Amazing Maize Maze in 1993 in Annville, Pa., and the popularity of corn mazes took off.)
For one, there’s a sense of camaraderie in the puzzle-like experience. Signs posted throughout Underwood’s maze cheekily warn against getting “corn-fused,” and complete strangers give one another the heads-up about dead ends.
“It’s a creative experience,” McDowell said. “It lets you be a kid again.”
As for actual kids, well, a corn maze seems to feel like a corn forest where the imagination can run wild.
Take it from one recent visitor, Ryder Crary-Lefaivre, 7, who was very glad he made it out of the corn maze and “didn’t get killed by zombies.”
21st Fall Harvest Festival & Corn Maze
Where: Underwood Family Farms, 3370 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, through Oct. 31
Cost: $14 and up on weekends, with discounts for online ticket purchases and weekday visits