An end to the maze
Freshly emerged from the Ryden Corn Maze north of Silt last week, Maria Toole took a guess at how long it took her and three children to navigate the paths between stalks.
“About 40 minutes,” the Silt resident ventured.
“It took us 37 minutes,” proclaimed Martin Toole, 11. “I timed it on my iPod.”
Time, it turns out, also is quickly ticking down on the maze itself, 13 years after Charles and Angela Ryden first began welcoming visitors to the attraction. The land it is on has been sold to settle family estate matters, bringing to an end this autumn Garfield County tradition.
“We’re sad that it’s the last year so we had to come and take advantage of it,” said Maria Toole, a repeat visitor to the maze.
Angela Ryden said she’s hearing such sentiments from a lot of people regarding the maze’s final year.
“They sure hate to see it not be here anymore,” she said.
The Rydens began planting the 10-acre corn plot to provide some late-season feed for the cattle they raise. They’ve used no- or low-kernel varieties because the feed comes from the stalks.
They’d seen pictures of mazes back east, and decided to try creating one themselves. But rather than hiring people to design the mazes and acquiring high-tech equipment, Charles simply drew up the designs using pencil and paper, at first employing his wife’s pots and pans to trace circles.
The couple used a surveyor’s transit and flagging to mark out each maze, which Charles then created during a couple of days of seed planting, lifting the planter wherever paths were to run.
“Nobody bothers him when he plants it because he’s got to count rows when he does it,” Angela Ryden said.
The Rydens have planted mazes in circle, spider-web, diamond, flower and other patterns.
Angela Ryden estimates that the maze has averaged close to 3,000 visitors a year. Families, friends, church groups, Scouting organizations, 4-H kids and others have made the trip out to the maze, tucked behind Harvey Gap Reservoir north of the Grand Hogback mountain ridge.
For visitors, the trip offers a mix of entertainment and education. At each turn in the maze, a sign asks an agriculture-related question and offers two possible answers, with arrows corresponding to the two directions people can head. Right choices lead the correct way; wrong ones reach dead ends.
At its shortest it’s about a mile long. If you really don’t know your agriculture, you can hike as far as three miles. For those who want to hurry up, the correct answers are on the back of each sign.
Angela Ryden said it typically takes people about 45 minutes to complete the maze. Of course, there are exceptions such as the two girls who tried to tour the maze at night without flashlights and had to be rescued by Charles Ryden.
Angela said the maze is a way to help people learn where their food comes from, as well as lots of other things with agricultural byproducts in them, from tires to oil to ball bearings.
Martin Toole said he accurately guessed the question about how many soccer balls can be made from one cow’s hide.
“It was 18, and I know that one because I play soccer,” he said.
Then, pressed a little, he acknowledged, “OK, maybe I did guess.”
“That is cool, you do learn a lot out there,” said Shay Salaz of Rifle after completing the maze with three generations of family members.
“I think it was pretty educational,” her brother, Bill Lowell, agreed.
The educational component is important to Angela and Charles Ryden, who respectively serve as the state women’s chair of the Colorado Farm Bureau and president of the Garfield County Farm Bureau. Angela said she’ll miss interacting with those who come to the maze each year.
“I like to visit with people and tell them the real agricultural story,” she said.
Now, one of the realities of agriculture is hitting home for the Rydens. The ranch belonged to his parents, who died in the early 2000s. The land has been sold to other local ranchers, Frank and Sheila Daley, to allow a sibling of Charles’ to be paid her share of the estate.
As part of the sale, the Rydens have acquired a much smaller ranch that they’ll soon be moving to south of Silt. Reflecting what’s so often also part of the real agricultural story, Angela said retirement isn’t part of her husband’s plans.
“He’s not going to get away from the livestock and he doesn’t know the word retire,” she said.