FRESNO, Calif. - Stumbling through Larry Harvison's 10-acre cornfield maze, a person gets the distinct impression that someone is watching.
People lost in the 2-and-a-half miles of trails, switchbacks and dead-ends begin to walk quickly or even run, missing vital clues and unwittingly treading old ground as each turn takes them deeper into the heart of the corn.
The giant labyrinth - the work of high-tech gadgetry, leg work, and a whole lot of hoeing - is carved to resemble a cartoonish bulldog, the Fresno State University mascot.
But people trapped in the maze can't see the dog for the corn - the 10-foot tall stalks blocking their way at every turn as they fumble to make sense of the twisting pathways.
''Even I have got lost in it, and I probably will today before it's done,'' Harvison said Wednesday as he worked to put the finishing touches on his masterpiece before it opens Friday.
''Even when you think you know it, especially at night, it becomes a totally different thing,'' he said.
Fresno's cornfield maze is one of about 60 that have cropped up around the country this year in a growing ''agri-tainment'' trend that some growers see as a good way to supplement their farming income.
It takes more than a tractor, some corn seed and a field to hop on this bandwagon, said Harvison, a cattle rancher from Mariposa County.
While he's a bit shy about revealing the exact technique used to carve his befuddling art into the cornfield, Harvison says it involved an investment of between $30,000 and $50,000, a computer-generated image of a bulldog, data from a Global Positioning System satellite and about a week of full-time hoeing.
Harvison and his partner, Darren Schmall, a 1989 Ag Department graduate from Fresno State, used the GPS data to map out the maze, marking it on the ground with small red flags.
Then it's mostly just a matter of carving the path. Some farmers use weed killer, others chop the stalks with a mower. When his corn was about 6 inches tall, Harvison armed a team with garden hoes and set them upon the field.
The resulting puzzle takes most people about an hour to complete, Harvison said.
Harvison said this is the third year he's built a cornfield maze near Fresno. The first was in the shape of the state and the second was a cow.
The inspiration - and the franchise rights - come from Utah entrepreneur Brett Herbst, who founded The MAiZE in 1996 to help farmers attract tourist dollars to their fields.
Harvison and Schmall want to educate as well as befuddle. They're hoping schools and families will bring children to the field, where they can learn how corn is grown and about some of its 100,000 uses.
''Most everyone has driven past a field of corn, but how many have ever got to go out and play in one?'' Schmall said.
Or get lost in one.
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