Labyrinth in the Desert

The desert west of town is a lonely expanse of volcanic fissures, sage, and shotgun shells. My wife Avery and I ventured out here to walk the labyrinth, a piece of land art designed by Scott Samuelson, her former professor.

A piece of orange poster board with a painted red spiral marks the highway turn-off. We park in a patch free of sagebrush and greet many familiar faces, including Scott’s. He is an old man with young, quick eyes. He is wearing baggy jeans, a button-up shirt, and an old baseball cap over his white hair. He gets in his rusty truck and rumbles into the desert with a few people bouncing in the bed, followed by another vehicle or two. The rest of us walk, but we like it that way. The desert has its own subtle beauty, and it’s best explored on foot. Scott has laid a breadcrumb trail for us to follow; smaller versions of the red spiraled sign are duct taped to fence posts and sage brush.

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Photo credit: Avery Baker

The signs take us on dirt roads and dusty trails, around hills and brush. It’s hard to keep my sense of direction as we walk. We see yellow cactus blooms, a deer skull with fur still attached, and finally, as we come up over a rise, we see the labyrinth.

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Deer-skull-with-hair

Photo credit: Avery Baker

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The labyrinth is made of lava rock, gathered and carefully arranged on the desert floor by friends and former students of Scott’s. At its entrance is a door-like wooden frame with strings of tiny, colorful, home-sewn flags streaming down to the ground on either side. At its center stands the biggest cairn I have ever seen.  

This type of labyrinth is not a maze. There are no dead ends or intersections. Instead, a single path leads you to the center. The design is patterned after the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, which is inlaid into the stone floor.

“This whole thing sounds a bit pagan,” Benjamin points out, which is partially true. The labyrinth was what Theseus had to pass through to kill the Minotaur. But over time, Theseus became Christ, the Minotaur became death, and walking the labyrinth became a Christian pilgrimage.

After homemade root beer, sloppy joes, and baked beans, we walk the labyrinth, Scott leading the way. I walk quietly at first, trying to absorb the experience, but Katie says, “What book or author has changed you the most? Go!” And the discussing starts.

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The winding path takes us deep into the labyrinth’s twelve concentric rings, then back out to its edge, then back in. It takes about twelve minutes to reach the center, another twelve to exit. Though the labyrinth is large, maybe 100 feet across, I’m surprised by how much space it contains. Scott tells me he thinks it’s about a mile round trip to walk the labyrinth.Rexburg-desert-labyrinth-rings-low-res

After the walk, we stand around and chat in small groups. The sunlight has begun to soften and fade, and shadows spread over the labyrinth. “From now until dark,” Scott announces, “the light just gets better and better. So if you’re into light, stick around.”

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One comment

  1. Nicely written. Strong ending to the piece. The labyrinth seems to have transformed, almost magically, your perspective of the moment as you entered and walked and observed. Makes me want to visit.

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