Editor's note: The Times' Paul Driscoll decided to test his wits against the Fox Squirrel Corn Maze. He provided this first-person account upon his return, and we're just glad he made it back.
It takes a lot for me to give up watching a Minnesota Gophers football game on a Saturday afternoon, but that's exactly what I did to visit the inaugural Fox Squirrel Corn Maze last week.
Last month I found myself searching for local fall activities to partake in. Corn mazes are common in the Midwest, and I began to wonder if we had any here in the Tampa Bay region.
I stumbled upon a website that boasted of Hillsborough County's first corn maze. I was intrigued and decided to make it a date with my girlfriend. The only thing I was certain of was getting lost and being rewarded afterward with some fried food.
Upon arriving at the ranch, I had to drive down a long, bumpy dirt road before reaching the entrance to the corn maze. After I parked, paid and received my map of the maze, I realized I got more than I had bargained for. The maze sits on 4 acres of farmland and is rather complex.
I consider myself good with puzzles and brainteasers, but five minutes into what turned out to be a half-hour adventure I was lost and turned around. I might as well have been all alone in the middle of a cornfield in Nebraska. Thankfully, there are checkpoints and staffers available if you get lost and have had enough.
The cornstalks were over 8 feet tall and swaying in the cool wind. The dirt paths were easier on my feet than the maze was on my head. It was easy to identify where you were in the maze by the amount of sound you heard coming from the rest of the ranch.
The smell of barbecue floated in the air. My girlfriend said, "I should have worn sneakers" at least 20 times.
At one point I wondered how we'd make it out, as I had lost our location on the map we were handed. There were times when I speculated if we were the only two in the maze of maize.
It all looked the same. Corn, corn and more corn. We'd hit dead ends, go in circles and end up where we were five minutes before. Toward the end, I was able to identify where we were by using the map and with the help of other maze-goers. We put our heads together and were able to make it to the promised land — the exit — and avoid duplicating the final scene of The Shining.
In addition to the main attraction, there's a large pumpkin patch for kids and adults alike to pick out a pumpkin; a general store where you can pick up homemade cane syrup, local honey, antiques and other gift items; a hayride that takes you on a tour of the ranch; and various activities, like horseshoes, cornhole and duck races for the kids.
Food vendors are here to sate your appetite and quench your thirst. Fair foods like fried dill pickles and veggies, deep-fried potato on a stick, chicken fried bacon and good old-fashioned hamburgers and hot dogs are all reasonably priced.
We picked out a couple of pumpkins to take home to carve for Halloween, enjoyed a burger, corn dog and fries, and took the hayride. Kids were playing, adults were laughing; everyone was having a great time. I was impressed by the amount of detail spent on the corn maze, the hospitality paid to the visitors, and the occupants of seven or so rows of cars that also gave up college football and malls to visit a local attraction.
Autumn is a great opportunity to get outdoors, appreciate the cooler weather and enjoy seasonal events in our neck of the woods. Fox Squirrel Corn Maze gives you the chance to take advantage of all three in a low-cost, close-to-home setting.