By Mark Wineka
ON THE FARM - Your cellphone's GPS will not help you out here. Just accept it: You will get lost.
The Maize at Patterson Farm in Rowan County and the Regal Corn Maze near Statesville test both your sense of direction and your levels of frustration.
Even if you had input into the maze's design, as Michelle Patterson did, you're likely to take a wrong turn - or three or 20 - during your journey.
Patterson made a test run this week in Patterson Farm's new 2-acre maze of sorghum, the long-stemmed, tropical-like grass good for making syrup and often mistaken at a distance for corn.
To help her on the journey, Patterson used an American history "passport," which guides the maze wanderers from signpost to signpost.
Answer the history question correctly, and it gives you the proper direction to continue. Answer it incorrectly, and you head off in the wrong direction to who knows where.
Patterson and some friends with her were going along fine until signpost "6" and its multiple-choice question:
What was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin:
A. First fire department (go back the way you came)
B. First post office (turn left)
C. First public library (turn right)
She went with post office, and let's just say that left was not the way to go.
But Patterson eventually made it out of the maze safely, in plenty of time to prepare for its opening this weekend.
"Our staff is very excited about it," Michelle Patterson says.
Other passports - they are available at the Regal Corn Maze, too - have multiple-choice questions related to topics such as movies and music, the Hunger Games, scripture, sports, health, Halloween, Scouting and corn.
If you could see both the Maize at Patterson Farm and the Regal Corn Maze in Iredell County from an airplane, you would be a-mazed.
Patterson's has an eat-fresh, eat-local, eat-produce theme tying in closely with the working farm on which it is located. Carved into the landscape are the words "Eat Fresh" and depictions of fruits and vegetables - most of which are grown in great quantities by the Patterson family.
The Regal Corn Maze - a much bigger cornfield design covering 7 acres - celebrates the 100th birthday of Oreo cookies.
"Everybody loves Oreos," says Catherine Bell, who operates the maze with her husband, Brian, on family acreage off Bell Farm Road.
The Bells are in their third year of providing a cornfield maze. Their mazes in years past have had haunted house and scarecrow designs.
Both Patterson Farm and Regal Farm rely on The Maize, the world's largest cornfield maze consulting and design company.
The Maize assisted in design and planting. The beauty in each field is that the crops can be harvested in November when the maze season is over.
"It's a lot of work," says Catherine Bell, a former wedding planner. "There are a lot of hours. (But) I get so much pleasure seeing families out here in the sun away from video games and cellphones."
Beyond the mazes, both sites have numerous other activities - from riding cow trains and bouncy horses, to diving into corn pits, to sling-shooting tomatoes and pears at targets.
Each place is an individual experience, with various price points. Both also are drawing cards for groups - young and old.
Companies like to use mazes for team-building exercises.
Patterson Farm, which provides many different educational tours through the year, is offering its "Corn Maze Tour" by appointment for school groups starting Monday and going through Nov. 9.
The weekend at Patterson Farm also includes hayrides, face painting, pumpkin painting, pig races, duck races, cow-barrel train rides, hop-along bouncers, make-and-take scarecrows, pony rides, a hay-bale maze, tractor tire mountain, pumpkin bowling, a hay-bale tunnel, corn pit, tomato slingshot, rope maze and coloring coop.
The numbers at the Regal Corn Maze have increased every year, and the Bells try to add new activities to go along with their maze - one of the larger ones you'll find in North Carolina.
Last year, the Regal Corn Maze attracted 8,000 people. Catherine Bell says 50 groups from cities across the region already have made plans to try the Regal Corn Maze this fall.
The name "Regal" comes from a combination of the Bell's daughters' names: Reagan and Allison.
Within the Regal maze itself, the Bells have "corn cops," who patrol various quadrants."They look for lost souls," Catherine says.
At first, the Bells tried putting a deer stand near the edge of their cornfield maze to help in locating lost patrons, but the corn grows too high over people's heads for that kind of watch tower to be effective.
"The deeper you go, the taller the corn," Bell says. "Even with the passports, I get so lost in here. My husband is the maze master. I handle the concessions."
Visitors can anticipate spending an average of 45 minutes to an hour in the maze.
The cornfield maze is actually two mazes in one. The left side is easier than the right side, Catherine says. It was planted the last week in June, so the corn would still be healthy and pretty in September and October.
The field is planted in a checkerboard pattern to insure thickness. When the corn is 10 inches high, the crew from Utah comes in and plots out the design on a grid system. Areas are then flagged and the lines that are the maze paths are sprayed, while the rest of the corn continues growing.
The Bells also mowed the Johnson grass and morning glories that started to grow on the paths later.
The Regal Corn Maze opened last weekend. Starting next weekend, the hours expand to include Friday and Saturday nights, meaning the more daring souls can tackle the maze in the dark.
You can either bring your own flashlight or rent one from the Bells for $2. A dollar is refunded when the flashlights are handed back in.
Catherine Bell is excited about all the activities she has added with the maze. They include a corn cannon, a slingshot for shooting pears and corn, a corn pit, a Hay mountain for climbing, a hay maze, plastic duck races, face painting, bull roping (a fake bull) and a cow train pulled by a John Deere.
Her newest addition is the Regal Rodeo, where visitors can bounce on inflatable ponies in small, medium or large sizes. The larger ponies can handle 375 pounds, and they're a good workout.
"Thirty days to thinner thighs," Catherine says.
The Regal Corn Maze also has places to play checkers and other games, a fire pit and picnic shelters. Concessions include Catherine's specialty - s'mores on a stick - along with caramel apples rolled in Oreos, kettle corn, hot dogs, corn dogs and hamburgers.
On some weekends the site has corn-shucking contests, petting zoos and John Deere tractor displays.
"It's so unique and so fun," Bell says of the whole maze experience.
Just leave your GPS at home.
Here are two places to visit mazes this fall:
The Maize at Patterson Farm
Where: 10390 Caldwell Road, Mount Ulla
Times: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturdays; 12:30-6 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 10.
Admission price: $8 to $12 per person, depending on activities.
Special weekends: Back to School Supply Drive, Sept. 22; Military and Scout Appreciation weekend, Sept. 29-30; Rowan Helping Ministries West Weekend, Oct. 6-7; Extended Saturday hours and Teacher Appreciation Weekend, Oct. 27-28; Patterson Pumpkin Smash & Dash, Nov. 3.
For more details: Call 704-636-4005, or visit www.pattersonfarminc.com
The Regal Farm Corn Maze
Where: 347 Bell Farm Road, Statesville
Times: This weekend, noon-7 p.m. Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday; Starting Sept. 28, 6-10 p.m. Fridays; noon-10 p.m. Saturdays; and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Open through Nov. 15
Admission price: $7 during day, $8 at night; children 5-10, $5 day, $6 night; children 4 and under free.
For more details: Call 704-348-1648, or visit www.RegalCornMaze.com.