The Land of Enchantment’s inaugural corn maze owes its origins to an outbreak of phytophthora – also known as chile wilt – on a farm in the west valley of Las Cruces.
As a result, about five acres of the farm owned by Anna Lyles and her husband was rendered useless – at least for what it was originally intended. When a marketing-savvy friend suggested they turn the space into a corn maze in conjunction with 150th anniversary of the City of Las Cruces, the Lyles shrugged and said, “Why not?”
That first edition of the Mesilla Valley Corn Maze was a humble operation that included no facilities, one picnic table and an extension cord Lyles borrowed from the neighbors so she could run a cash register. Today, the corn maze itself is about eight acres, but the attraction as a whole spans 45 acres and includes hayrides, pumpkin picking, food service, live music, games, activities and a country store, among other things.
“My husband’s a commercial grower. He calls what I do down here ‘my hobby,’ ” Lyles said with a laugh. “Which is fine.”
Lyles’ venture started a trend, as corn mazes can now be found throughout New Mexico. McCall’s Pumpkin Patch (Moriarty), Rio Grande Community Farm (Albuquerque) and Wagner’s Farmland Experience (Corrales) are in close proximity for those who don’t want to journey too far from the Duke City. For those who don’t mind taking a road trip, there are mazes to be found in other areas of the state such as Las Cruces and Anthony. The majority of these include a variety of family-friendly activities with the price of admission.
Mesilla Valley remains the original, though the act of navigating a corn maze has changed significantly over the course of the past two decades.
“Going and walking through the maze isn’t near the challenge it is today as it was in the beginning before we had GPS on our phones – well, before everybody had phones,” Lyles said. “It changes it. People still enjoy going out there and doing it, but it’s not quite like it used to be. You can get a Google Earth shot of it and see exactly where you’re at and figure it out from there.”
A certain measure of creativity is involved in the creation of a corn maze. The La Union Maze in Anthony, for example, has been around almost as long as Mesilla Valley’s and has adopted a number of different themes over its 23 years. That will be no different in 2022.
“We try to get creative every year and try to do something a little bit different,” says La Union office manager Karoline Sondgeroth. “We’ve done an alien theme once before, but we were kind of excited this year because I believe it is the 75th anniversary for the Roswell Incident. That’s why we went back to the crop circles and the aliens.
“Also, the crop circles make it a little extra challenging because you’re not sure if you’re walking in circles, if this is the same one, is this a different one. It kind of is a little bit more challenging.”
“The maze itself is technically divided into two separate mazes,” Sondgeroth said. “It’s one design, but there’s two entrances and two exits. Typically, people have the option of taking a map with them. And some people want to navigate their way in and out. Other people just want to get lost. They have that option. We have employees in there that are available to help people find their way out just in case they do get lost.”
Regardless of one’s approach to maze navigation, places like La Union Maze and Mesilla Valley have become yearly destinations.
“There’s so much to do. Even for those that have been coming year after year, it’s a family tradition for many in our area,” Sondgeroth said. “Because it’s seasonal, it helps bring in that fall feeling.”