When Jerry Reding looked out across his vast farm in Chickasha, he saw possibility. Not for a standard cash crop or livestock, but a puzzle. Less than a year later, sprawled across 20 acres of rich soil was a giant maze. When seen from the air, the maze depicts six characters of "The Wizard of Oz" cut out of the field of sorghum stalks.
There are five separate mazes, three of which connect to each other, comprising 10 miles of pathway. The tale of wonder and disassociation that provides the "Oz" theme is entirely appropriate because, once stuck inside the towering walls of sorghum, visitors quickly lose any sense of direction. The Chickasha maze opened Sept. 12.
"It's a challenge " a huge challenge " and if you want a challenge, well, that's what it's here for," said Frances Reding, Jerry's sister.
A handful of mazes exist throughout the state. While traditionally cut into corn fields, the Chickasha maze, as well as one in Shawnee, utilizes sorghum because of the crop's resilience to Oklahoma weather, allowing the labyrinths to stand for a longer period than if they were corn.
Robin Mikles began the Shawnee maze with her husband three years ago after moving from Kansas. They'd initially planned to just start a pumpkin patch, but decided to add the maze as an extra draw. Oklahoma's turbulent weather is the theme of their maze, with a tornado, storm clouds and snow covering an image of the state map.
"Ours is a two-phase maze. We have side one and side two," Mikles said. "You enter in the same area and both exit out at the same place."
Because not everyone has sharp map-reading skills, both the Chickasha and Shawnee mazes have "passports" to help guide visitors.
"When you come to post one, you will read a question on your passport, and out beside every answer, it has 'turn left' or 'turn right,'" Mikles said. "If you get the correct answer, you will progress in the right direction; if not, you will come to a dead end or into a big circle that takes you back to the same post."
The mazes aren't meant to trap the visitors indefinitely. Workers are stationed throughout ready to give help, if needed, called "corn cops," according to Mikles.
Both mazes are designed so wandering guests will emerge from the field somewhere, given enough time.
"You really can't get too lost in the maze. You'll eventually make your way out," Frances Reding said. "The only difference is whether it will take 45 minutes or two hours."
Both farms planted in the summer to prepare for the maze. They both also used the same company to create the maze, using a gigantic stencil to make the design.
After the sorghum was grown, the paths leveled and the weeds pulled, the workers were trained to find their own way through. Frances admitted that it took a few tries to work out the "Cowardly Lion" maze, which is full of flairs and corners from the lion's mane.
Putting together the mazes was just one part of the process. Both include other attractions such as corn cannons, hayrides and campfires. The Chickasha site also erected a stage for concerts throughout the season.
"There's not a lot of family-oriented things to do in this area. Every big event that has come to Chickasha has been successful," Chickasha maze co-owner Nancy Reding said.
Chickasha's Oz-themed group of mazes are broken up into difficulty levels. "The Tin Man" is the easiest, meant for schoolchildren wanting to find their own way. "Dorothy and Toto" and "The Cowardly Lion" are a bit harder and take about 45 minutes. "The Scarecrow" is the most elaborate, taking more than an hour and a half to complete.
"The Wicked Witch" is a haunted maze. Frances Reding, a drama teacher at Chickasha High School, said she tapped some of her students to assemble it.
"There will be characters inside the Wicked Witch maze, frights around every corner, but there won't be any chain saws!" she said. "We are hoping to do creepy, eerie things."
Ultimately, the mazes are a way for farmers to show off their land and bring the community back into the countryside.
"Jerry always had a dream of having people come enjoy the farm," Frances Reding said. "If you live in the community, you give back to the community, but we couldn't for years and Jerry missed it.
"Now all our friends tease us about having the crop circles north of town." "Charles Martin