Topock Maze (Mystic Maze)
The Topock Maze up close. Photo courtesy Indian Country, Today Media Network.com
Within walking distance (or even a stone’s throw) from Interstate 40 near Needles, California, you’ll find a remnant of American Indian heritage and spiritual importance. The Topock Maze (Mystic Maze) is a 600+ year old geoglyph consisting of intricate patterns and paths designed by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe. The modern Mohave people believe this Maze is a part of the spiritual portal to the next life where bad souls get lost, and good souls find their portal to the afterlife. One might say the souls must complete the Maze in order to find their portal and cross over. Early experts believed the warriors returning from battle would run through the Maze, leaving any bad spirits behind.
Regardless of why it was created, the magnitude and magnificence of this geoglyph cannot be disputed. How long this geoglyph will be able to withstand the elements is unknown, so if you happen to be traveling past this area, it’s definitely a must-see.
The Topock Maze is one of great spiritual significance to the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe - care and consideration of the Tribe's beliefs and of the maze itself must be practiced if you decide to visit the sacred site. The area is fenced off – please observe the boundaries and do not walk on the geoglyphs.
The placard describing the Topock Maze
The descriptive placard, while weathered and difficult to read, says:
"Here, upon this land where you now stand, is the Topock Maze; indeed, a cultural site of much importance to the tribe. To this site the AhaMakav warriors returning home from battle first paused for purification before continuing home."
"Not a true maze, this site is a series of windrows carefully placed in an extensive geometric pattern. Today, the site covers about 10 acres. Evidence suggests that it may have originally been only one section in a group of nearby earth images and features. Sadly, important parts of the complex were destroyed by the construction of the highway. But whether or not the geoglyphs in this vicinity were associated with one another, this was clearly an area of symbolic and ritual significance."
Many factors, both natural and man-made, have reduced the geoglyph to a small area. Once deep and prevalent, the windrows of this geoglyph have been reduced to mere mounds from the harsh desert winds and monsoon seasons. But human destruction has caused the most damage. During the 1880’s, the Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks right through the Maze, destroying a geoglyph of a human figure (its feet are near the bank of the Colorado River) holding a snake. With the railroad came wagon roads and paths going right through the Maze, causing further damage to the original geoglyph. Further desecration occurred in 1926 when Route 66 crossed the Maze, and was subsequently widened to create what we know as Interstate 40.
Aerial overview map showing the original 50-acre boundaries
During the 1950’s, Pacific Gas & Electric built a gas pipeline in the area, just missing the sacred site. Additional damage to the Maze was created when PG&E, after constructing the Topock Natural Gas Compressor Station near the Maze (aerial map
), was forced to construct a large treatment plant, as well as drill 170 wells, within the Maze area due to the compressor station polluting the groundwater under and around the Maze with hexavalent chromium (the same chemical, Chromium 6, that inspired the movie Erin Brockovich).
Sadly, the Mystic Maze, whose original size was well over 50 acres, has been reduced to a mere 15-acre area.
From Interstate 40, exit Park Moabi Road and go south (away from Pirate Cove Resort). Follow the pavement until it ends and turn left onto a well-maintained and graded road. Continue about one mile. The Maze will be on the north (left) side of the road in a fenced-in area.
Aerial view of the remaining Topock Maze (click to go to Google Maps)
In 2011, the Topock Cultural Area was designated as a historic resource under state law and the Bureau of Land Management determined the area was eligible for listing on the National Register (designating an area of traditional and cultural importance).
Additionally, in 1978 the Topock Maze is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and falls under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
An old drawing of the Maze by H. Betts
Aerial views of the geoglyph Maze can give you a good idea of how massive this site is. Click on the map links below and mouse around the desert area to see the existing Maze, as well as where the maze used to be (remnants of the desecrated geoglyph is visible via aerial photography).
| Wikimapia (Interactive)