BYLINE: DAVID VANCE, American-Statesman Staff
A LABYRINTHINE WALTZ ACROSS TEXAS
PUBLICATION: The Austin American-Statesman
Amarillo can be elusive. I had just walked around Texas, through nine cities, and now I was somewhere in the Panhandle. You can get lost in the Panhandle. I was starting to get frustrated, and if I didn't hurry up, it truly would be "Amarillo By Morning."
Fortunately, I was wandering in the Texas Maze, the latest attraction at Sweet Berry Farm near Marble Falls. The maze is four acres of 6- foot high sorghum-sudan grass cut into the shape of Texas. Running through the maze are paths that cut this way, shoot that way and often lead to nowhere. The object is to enter at "Brownsville" and find 11 cities throughout the maze. The cities are geographically correct (more or less; El Paso is about "20 miles" off) but the paths do not follow actual roads or rivers, and creator Dan Copeland, owner of Sweet Berry, has done his best to confuse, confound and lead searchers astray. When you finally do find a city, your maze card is punched, and if you find all 11 cities, you win a Coke.
"I have no idea where I am." I was talking to myself. "Is that the same can?" I had seen that can four times while searching for Amarillo. "Is this even the Panhandle?" I could be anywhere. "I must be walking in circles." It had all started out so well.
"It's a lot of fun!" said one woman as I stepped out of my car. "You'll really enjoy it," said another couple as I walked up to the counter. A red-cheeked, grinning young girl ran up waving her card: "I did it! I won!"
A cynical cityboy, I think, "Surely it can't be that fun." I get my card and head up from Brownsville. I quickly find Del Rio, then El Paso. Smart cityboy thinks: "I'll be out of here in record time. It's all about spatial reasoning. Males have it. . . ." Such hubris. I go in search of Lubbock. I find Tyler. That's odd. Houston and Corpus Christi next, right where they should be. San Antonio proves elusive, Austin more so, but I find them both. Dallas should be "north" of Austin. It's not. Well, it is, but I can't find it.
Copeland has laid the maze out almost upside down, with Brownsville pointing nearly due north. Later, when asked why he did that, he just grins and tells a story about a troop of Boy Scouts who wanted to bring their compasses.
A compass could not help me. I give up on Dallas and go in search of Marble Falls, finding it shortly. Stopping to look up, I notice a beautiful Hill Country bluff in the distance. I'm happy to be outside. The maze is a good idea. Amarillo one more time? Bad idea. I try to use the sun as my guide and spend another 20 minutes somewhere near Dalhart, then proceed to get poked in the eye by a sSorghum stalk.
This maze is actually Copeland's second attempt; the first maze died after a strong storm. When the first freeze of the season hits, this second maze may be gone too. But Sweet Berry Farms offers more than the Texas Maze. Hayrides giddy-up on Saturday and Sunday, and its main business is pick-your-own fruit patches: strawberries from March through May; blackberries from May through June; and pumpkins and gourds in October.
OK, Amarillo is still elusive, but I find Lubbock! It's rare when someone is happy to say that. Amarillo has to be right there, I think. It's not, of course. So it's back toward Dallas, and there's that can again. An enterprising father-daughter duo has brought two- way radios. "Meet me in Marble Falls" crackles through the air. Dallas is nowhere to be found. But I'm tall enough to see over some sections of the stalks and know I'm walking "west" along the Red River. I think. I'm now taking paths that may not be paths at all. A passing couple asks if I've found Amarillo. I shake my head and plow on. I'm lost but I'm having fun. You can lose yourself in Texas. The maze has beat me.
When asked why he created it, Copeland thinks for a second. "Everything I do out here is because I enjoy it. I wanted to create a place for families. You can even bring a date. It's something unusual and fun."
Business seems slow, and I ask him if it's worth it. "I see the smiles on the faces," he says, "and that makes it worth it."
So if you're sitting around some upcoming weekend, searching for something unique to do, please visit Sweet Berry Farm and take a turn in its Texas Maze.
And please, let me know if you find Amarillo.
"The A-maze-ing Texas Maze"
Where: Sweet Berry Farm, 1801 FM 1980, 2 miles outside of Marble Falls
When: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday (bring a flashlight after dark)
How much: $4
Info: (830) 798-1462 or www.sweetberryfarm.com
BYLINE: DAVID VANCE, American-Statesman Staff