Spring will be here before we know it (well, precisely on Sunday, March 20), bringing with it more sunshine (read: serotonin) and if you’re up for it, the occasion for a labyrinth walk at sunrise. OK don’t fret, it doesn’t have to be at sunrise and you can honestly do this any day of the year, but tradition tells us that on the first day of each new season (spring and fall equinox, winter and summer solstice) people around the world take part in the ancient practice of labyrinth walking. (And yep, that’s “labyrinth” as in the 1986 movie starring David Bowie as the Goblin King. The movie just turned 35 years and is definitely worth a rewatch.)
How Labyrinths Work
It’s not a maze, exactly, but a singular, circuitous pathway, often on stone floors, that snakes back and forth to a central spiral or rosette, then leads you back out again following the same route. Labyrinths have ancient roots that date back thousands of years to Greek mythology, built to hold the half-bull, half-man Minotaur as prisoner.
Historians have spotted labyrinths through the ages, as they were built by the Pagans and later by Christians to represent a sacred pilgrimage, among other things. But even for the nonreligious, the practice functions as a mediative walk. Focusing your attention on your steps and following the guided path helps clear your mind, bring a sense of peace and helps set your intentions for the season—all things we can get behind.
If you’re sticking between the lines, walking the labyrinth requires you to look at your own feet to stay on the path for a good amount of the time you’re walking. Kids will get a kick out of it too as they look down at their feet to follow where the path curves. They can go at their own pace and even practice taking the sharp, 180-degree turns required to stay on track. Labyrinths are more often than not on a flat surface, so running or skipping over the pathway is fine as long as there are no collisions with other walkers.
Labyrinths in Dallas-Fort Worth
You’ll find stone labyrinths hidden away in church courtyards, parks or memorial gardens. Give labyrinthlocator.com a look to find the dozens of labyrinths in the North Texas area. The database is quite extensive with photos and descriptions. Type in your zip code and your preferred search radius to find the ones nearest you. We a couple of our favorites we found at the SMU campus in Dallas and another in Oak Cliff.
Ruben L.F. Habito Labyrinth at SMU
Perhaps one of the prettiest ones locally is at the Perkins School of Theology on the SMU campus in Dallas. The Ruben L.F. Habito Labyrinth, located between Prothro and Selecman Halls is a seven-circuit design, based on the 11-circuit medieval labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral outside Paris.
If you were to unwind the path, it would stretch to about one-third of a mile long. Feel free to take it slow or fast, there’s no time constraint, no Goblin King to turn you into an underling. The closest places to park are the Meadows Garage across Bishop Boulevard or at the new Hillcrest Parking Center off Mockingbird, and the school welcomes guests at any time to walk at your leisure. They only ask that you keep your voices low while classes are in session.
Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff
If quiet contemplation isn’t exactly in your kid’s wheelhouse, you can find a more remote, natural setting for labyrinth walking at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff. This one is set on a 5-acre wooded lot behind the church and tended to by volunteers to keep the dirt path free from weeds and the paths lined with large stones.
To find it, park at either parking lot on site and go past the gazebo where you’ll find the labyrinth aligned with rocks, as well as more cleared pathways for nature walks and a wildflower meadow that’s sure to the blooming this spring. You’re welcome to visit here anytime as well, the church, which typically holds celebrations for the summer and winter solstice, just asks that you use the trash cans and leave the stones intact.
DIY Labyrinth At-Home
To familiarize your kids with the concept of labyrinth walking, first try your hand at tracing one with your finger. Download and print out a finger labyrinth in the Chartres design from uua.org, where you’ll also find more activity ideas, like naming stones or decorating the threshold.
Labyrinthsociety.org shares instructions for creating a small-scale labyrinth in your own backyard using household items like a rope, sidewalk chalk, birdseed or pebbles. The simplest version for garden play? Using a stick to draw a spiral labyrinth in the sand.
Mazes in Dallas-Fort Worth
Now that you’ve mastered the labyrinth on your family outing, keep the journey going and reward the kids with a visit to what could be considered labyrinth’s sister. Mazes, as you well know, are great brain teasers, designed to challenge your memory and keep you laughing through the frustration of running into dead ends.
Amazing Secret Garden
One of the most kid-friendly mazes in Dallas-Fort Worth is hidden away among the dozens of attractions inside the Dallas Arboretum’s Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden. The Amazing Secret Garden is a circular maze designed with tall hedges that feel much like that scene in Alice in Wonderland, but you’ve got a lot more tools—like whisper tubes and dance chimes—to help find your way. Take a video tour here. Be sure to read the cardinal directions and look through periscopes to see above the hedge maze. One landmark to remember: the castle’s flag in the middle of the garden.
This maze doesn’t hold a Minotaur, but there is a row of fire-breathing (read: misting) dragons to reach the Sword in the Stone near the entrance. Thanks to changeable panels, some of the pathways may even alter during your exploration, but rest assured parents, there’s only one way in and out, so you don’t have to worry about actually losing your kid.
For toddlers of your family, you’ll find a more age-appropriate maze in the First Adventure area, with a shortened hedge maze beside the caterpillar topiary. The children’s adventure garden is open daily for $3, plus regular garden admission. This spring is a great time to visit, too, because of the Dallas Blooms festival featuring—no exaggeration—half a million blooms, peacock topiaries and live bird demonstrations to go along with this year’s “Birds in Paradise” theme.
Cowtown Cattlepen Maze
For an even greater maze challenge, go tackle the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze at the Fort Worth Stockyards. You’ll find the 5,400-square-foot attraction at the far east corner, just beyond the tracks to the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and beside the petting zoo. With its sun-bleached wooden panels, you can imagine the hundreds of steers that ran through cattle chutes much like these during the days of the Chisholm trail.
At the admission booth (only $6 for age 3 and up), everyone gets a punch card to stamped with your entry time. This one’s timed so you get up the fun factor and try to beat the completion times posted on the leader board. Along the paths, be on the lookout for the letters M, A, Z and E and punch your card at each check point.
No cheating by rolling under the walls! But here’s one acceptable trick. Before you enter, take the stairs up to the second-story observation deck where you can see much of the maze from a bird’s eye view.
Of course, the Cattlepen Maze is only one of dozens of attractions at the Stockyards. Make sure you’re out of the maze by either 11am or 4:30pm so you can catch the twice-daily cattle drives of the Fort Worth Herd of Texas longhorns down Exchange Avenue. They’ll be following their own well-trodden path.
Top image courtesy of SMU Perkins School of Theology