Stamped on bronze-age coins, woven into Hopi baskets, incised on petroglyph panels, or sculpted with hedges, labyrinths span the globe and human history. Yet, the most popular labyrinths are walking paths for meditation, spiritual pilgrimage, or healing. Two labyrinth designs, the classical 7-circuit and the medieval 11-circuit, are found in southern Utah, and their origin stories are worth telling.
Located in Springdale, Utah near Zion National Park’s entrance is a Classical Labyrinth on property once owned by David Flanigan, inventor, entrepreneur, and pioneer settler. Flanigan is best remembered for building and operating the Cable Works that moved timber from Zion’s canyon rim to the floor 2,000-feet below. A subsequent owner built a small inn on site to serve Zion’s visitors.
Larry Lee McKown purchased the inn and property in 1978 and recounts, “I hiked to the top of a hill and I was struck by the panoramic mountains and the tranquility of this unique vista. The solitude created a perfect place for meditation.”
Born in Minnesota, McKown served during the Vietnam Conflict, traveled Europe, and resided two months in Crete. While living in the caves of Matala in 1968, he learned of Knossos and the Greek myth of the half-man/half-bull Minotaur that lived in King Minos’ labyrinth.
With assistance from Taffy Lasser, an Associate of the International Labyrinth Society of Arizona
Constructed in 2004 with red-earth dyed concrete and red rock chips, Flanigan’s Labyrinth is positioned east-west, surrounded by Zion’s towering pinnacles — West Temple above, Flanigan’s Peak overlooking from the east, the Altar of Sacrifice to the north, and the lower Virgin River corridor flowing from the south.
Flanigan’s Labyrinth was blessed by Tibetan Buddhist Monks and showered with spiritual chants. High-profile visitors include Betina Lindsey, author, Indian spiritual guide, and flute player who has held hilltop rituals at the labyrinth, and composer-conductor and cellist, Rodolfo Fernandez, who serenaded the canyon from this elevated magical place.
Guests arrive for solstices, equinoxes, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, yoga, drum circles, and just to walk. Special events can be scheduled through Flanigan’s Inn. McKown believes, “The pleasure I receive from the labyrinth is from the energy that continues to grow from its usage,” and, “The power of Flanigan’s Labyrinth comes from its simple setting, incredible location, and diverse visitors from around the world.”
Desert Rose Labyrinth
Whereas Flanigan’s Labyrinth has seven circuits, the Desert Rose Labyrinth in the Kayenta community of Ivins, Utah employs the eleven-circuit style copied from Chartres Cathedral in France.
Kayenta resident artist Cheryl Collins describes Desert Rose’s origins, “In 2003, I was studying ancient symbols of healing art to incorporate into the sculpture outside the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah called The Healing Towers. I was captivated by the beauty of the pattern of the labyrinth. Soon after I finished installing the sculpture at the hospital, I received a phone call from Griff Schmertz asking if I would be on the committee to build a labyrinth in Kayenta.”
Born in Washington State and raised in western Canada, Collins moved from Salt Lake City to Kayenta in 2000. She explains, “I love creating meaningful art, passionate projects I call them.” Her fused glass and steel sculpture at the entrance to the Desert Rose Labyrinth depicts three stages of labyrinth walking: enter to “Release judgments, anger and pain,” at the center “Listen to what is deep within you, your inner wisdom,” and meander out to “Contemplate ways to integrate your own transformation.” Collins has also created bronze sculptures on display in downtown St. George as part of the “Art Around the Corner” exhibit.
Seven volunteers in their late 60s collected donations and built the labyrinth using more than 1,800 indigenous rocks. Today, Desert Arboretum Foundation volunteers maintain the grounds and sculptures (donated by Utah artists) that line the approach and surround the labyrinth.
The Desert Rose is divided into four directional quadrants aligned north-south. When entering, you face The Sleeping Maiden in Red Mountain. Per Collins, “In planning and constructing the labyrinth, the math was taken very seriously by Bernie Schmertz, using the knowledge gathered by Dr. Lauren Artress, author of Walking a Sacred Path and founder of Veriditas.org, a non-profit that facilitates “the transformation of the human spirit through offering the labyrinth experience.” Notably, Dr. Artress attended the Desert Rose dedication ceremony in 2004 — a year when more than 400 labyrinths were built in the United States.
The Desert Rose has witnessed weddings, funerals, celebrations, and seasonal events, as Collins contends, “It brings people together and provides a space for rest and renewal.”
Although many labyrinths exist in southern Utah, Flanigan’s and the Desert Rose are exceptional examples of different styles surrounded by stunning red rock landscapes and wrapped in history. In tranquil moments walking these labyrinths, it’s worth recalling the stories of those who walked that way before.