Byrd Draw Labyrinth

(Work on the labyrinth)

In 2019 I got the inspiration to create a more permanent labyrinth than I’d done so far, and one that would be outside and visible from the air. My mother in law, Lillian McMath, has a spare acre of land to the north of her house in Dubois, Wyoming, and agreed to let us construct a labyrinth/geoglyph on it.

Initially I thought I would just put in a simple, circular classical seven circuit labyrinth, but when I got out and physically surveyed the land I realized that this was not what wanted to happen. There’s a bit of topography and ecology to contend with—the northeast corner of the lot is sloping, rocky, and full of spiky greasewood bushes, and there was a wellhead that could not be easily camouflaged. 

As I mulled over these constraints while eyeballing the Google Earth aerials, I saw that the existing deer-and-rabbit trails, as they followed the contours, sort of suggested an existing form—a simple bird shape, with the wellhead as the bird’s eye. I sketched this out on my printout of the aerial, and then worked the shape into a seven circuit labyrinth. It only occurred to me afterward that it was completely appropriate that a labyrinth constructed right next to Byrd Draw be in the shape of a bird! 

I used the wellhead as a reference point, and then measured out on the paper sketch approximately where corner points would be on the design, then Trent and I got out on the land again with a 100’ tape measure and some pin flags and flagged it all out. I used survey tape to join up the pin flags, and we flew our drone to check if it all looked OK. It did! But we had run out of time. We got only a few yards of path cut, and then we had to go home to Salt Lake City and could not return to Dubois til the following summer. Puzzling over how to preserve all our work through the winter, I thought to use wire to follow where the survey tape was. So we went to the local hardware store and got a half mile reel of galvanized electric fencing wire and five boxes of staples, and spent a hard couple of hours pounding wire into the ground and removing the survey tape and pin flags. We sent up a couple of prayers to whatever gods there are of geoglyphs, and went home to Utah. 

The following year, COVID hit. We did go to Wyoming, but only for a couple of days, and we could not take the time to work on the labyrinth. I checked the wire and it seemed to still be in place and contiguous, so we said another little prayer and went home again. 

In 2021, not only were we still dealing with the complications of the pandemic, but Trent was being treated for colon cancer. He kicked ass (literally) and got well, but we didn’t go anywhere at all that summer except back and forth to the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The labyrinth was one of the last things on our minds. 

By 2022, things had settled down again. Trent was well, and we went back to Dubois for a visit in July. I was apprehensive—it had been three years since I put the wire down—but when I got out on the land I was overjoyed to find that it was still in place. It had been ripped up on one short section—perhaps a cow had kicked it while cruising through—but most of it was still contiguous (and for what it’s worth, the wire actually proved very difficult to remove when we went to take it up!) 

Trent and I put in a very hard four day weekend with a small electric garden tiller, a 2000 watt generator, a pickaxe, and a couple of shovels, and got fully half the path cut in. 

Byrd Labyrinth – 2022

In August we returned with our friends Greta and John, and the four of us put in another long weekend’s worth of work and finished the path. Not bad for a small group, the youngest of whom is pushing 50 and the oldest being 72! We sprinkled the bottom of the narrow path with contrasting sand and took another round of drone shots. It looked pretty good, and we were all pretty happy with the results. 

The completed labyrinth will now over-winter again, and we’ll go back in summer 2023 with a larger crew to finish some improvements. The path is very narrow and needs to be widened, and we will source some local white gravel to line it with so it’ll be better visible from the air and more permanent.

Concept for 2023 work