Go Get Lost...In the Corn Maize
Story and Photos by Brittni Drennan
The golden rays glisten off the crisp, dry leaves as the sun begins to show over the top of the horizon, the fall breeze begins to gently turn the windmill blades, and the chickens in the coop start pecking the ground for food as Patti Simpson takes in a cool, deep breath of the fresh morning air knowing it is going to be a busy day.
James and Patti Simpson’s corn field maze at At’l Do Farms located approximately eight miles northwest of Lubbock attracts more than 30,000 inquisitive visitors from the surrounding area each fall. People of all ages travel many miles to explore the beaten paths in the midst of 12 acres of rustling corn stalks.
“Some of our favorite memories are watching families bond and making memories as they navigate their way to the exit,” Patti said.
Each year James and Patti, with help from their three children, create a fun-filled adventure for all who visit the corn maze from September through November. The idea for this unique operation evolved from the need for something different in their own lives and the desire to get people out of the city limits and to the quiet, wide-open spaces.
James and Patti’s paths crossed while they both were students at Texas Tech University. James was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agronomy at the time, and he received his master’s in entomology in 1986. Patti obtained a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies in 1990. The pair married in 1987, and James began farming while Patti took care of their three children and taught dance lessons.
The couple was praying for a change from the typical life on a farm when they noticed an article about how to start a corn maze in The Progressive Farmer magazine. They contacted Brett Herbst, founder of The Maize Company in American Fork, Utah, and after several long visits, the Simpson’s thought the idea was worth a try. After farming for 12 years, the husband and wife team transformed their farmland to create their first maze in 2001.
“We already had the land. We already had the equipment, so the transition into doing a maze wasn’t that big of a deal,” James added.
The maze is not a solitary operation. It helps create an enjoyable environment in which the entire family must work together. Eric Simpson, James and Patti’s son, is a freshman studio art major at Tech and contributes his drawing talents to the family business. This past fall, he drew a picture of Raider Red, which the maze took form of this season.
Emilee and Allison, the family’s 15-year-old twins, help wherever they are needed whether it is serving drinks to customers or handing tokens to anxious visitors at the entrance booth.
Simply developing the corn maze to accommodate thousands of curious puzzle-solvers involves the whole family and many hours of preparation. The Simpson’s devote 10 weeks out of the year and almost 80 hours each week solely to operating the corn maze.
A picture or drawing of what the field will look like is sent to Brett Herbst and his team. Then the design is returned on graphing paper in the form of a maze. Squares containing each line, circle or mark are turned into coordinates that comprise the design of the maze. The family then goes out together with flags and marks where the paths in the maze should go. The next day, the marked paths are sprayed with chemicals that kill the corn plants, forming the paths in the maze people walk through.
Holly Hunnicutt, a junior agricultural communications major from Aubrey, Texas, said she had heard her friends talking about the maze and how much fun it was, but she wasn’t sure what to expect until she visited the maze for herself.
“When you are in the maze, you really can’t see where you are going because of the tall corn stalks, and it’s a real challenge to figure out which path will lead you in the right direction,” Hunnicutt said. “There are a lot of dead ends and turns and circles, but the trivia questions along the way and a map help you find your way through.”
At’l Do Farms also provides activities and entertainment other than just the corn maze. Hay rides take visitors to a pumpkin patch to pick their very own pumpkins. Children can ride the cow train and see farm animals such as sheep, goats, chickens, a pig and a donkey. Visitors can also take aim and shoot ears of corn at signs from Tech’s rival universities at varying distances with the corn canon.
“It’s a fun, inexpensive place to go, get out of town, and do something different with your friends or family,” Hunnicutt said.
The most challenging obstacle the Simpson’s said they face is marketing, advertising and working with the public. However, the Simpsons agree working with the public is also the most rewarding.
“It is challenging, but that’s what we love about it so much,” Patti said. “That’s why after that first year we said, ‘Hey! People like this,’ and we like working with the people. Everybody is just so cordial and fun to work with and very encouraging.”
“I think more than anything that’s what keeps us going is the people that continue to come out here as a tradition and encourage us and tell us what a neat place this is,” James agreed. “We are out here every day sweating in it and seeing the problems and things that need fixing, and people are just very encouraging.”
After the corn maze closes, the corn is harvested and taken to the Tech agriculture farm and used for livestock feed. During the off-season, the Simpsons live a normal family life. James works for Bayer CropScience and Patti is a substitute teacher in Shallowater. They said it never seems too long before it is time to start preparations again for the next season.
Other attractions at At'l Do Farms:
- Hay bale mini maze
- Hay rides
- Pumpkin patches
- Cow train rides
- Corn cannon