Thursday, October 30, 2014

Children of the Corn Maze & Other Amherst Adventures

This past weekend I took a spontaneous day-trip to Amherst with my friends Kara and Kyle for some reminiscing about our college days at UMass Amherst. October is such a perfect time to be in that part of Massachusetts, and I'd personally been craving a Pioneer Valley trip the entire month thus far, so it was just the thing to lift my spirits.

Drive from Boston to Amherst

When I think of Amherst in the fall, I think of beautiful foliage splashed across the hills surrounding the valley, pumpkin patches, farm stands, corn mazes, haunted hayrides, apple cider, and the UMass campus teeming with students wearing North Face jackets, UMass gear and Ugg boots. Since Kara, Kyle and I were only going to be there for the morning/afternoon, we couldn't pack all of those pleasures into this one trip, but we picked a nice selection of Amherst-area activities and gave it our all.

We made it to the Valley by around 10am, and after swinging through Northampton for some coffee, we made a bee-line for Mike's Maze in Sunderland - a local corn maze and farm stand that I'd been to once before with David some years ago. And what a gorgeous day to do a corn maze!

Corn stalks on a perfect day
And looking north, here was the gorgeous view of Mount Sugarloaf from Mike's Maze:

View of Mount Sugarloaf from Mike's Maze in Sunderland

Sidebar, Mount Sugarloaf is also a great attraction on a fall day if you're in the Pioneer Valley. It's a short hike with lovely views of the Connecticut River and the surrounding hills.

While I'm sure all corn mazes are different, Mike's Maze does a different maze design every year and also incorporates a whole game/challenge into the maze. This year's maze design was a raven, and you can (and should) check out the bird's eye view of it here. The game aspect involved a bit of animal trivia and some drawing, and while that part was obviously mostly for the kids, we still got into it pretty unabashedly that morning. Here's an intense shot of Kara completing one of the drawing challenges, while Kyle makes sure she doesn't go over the allotted 30-second timeframe to do so.

What a nice day to be lost in a corn maze...

After we found our way out of the maze, we were each rewarded with a free sugar pumpkin to take home. Did you even know there was such a thing as a "sugar pumpkin"? Apparently that's what the smaller pumpkins are called - and they actually have differently textured flesh that makes them better for baking with than larger pumpkins. Now you know. 

From Sunderland, we drove into Amherst and through the middle of the UMass campus as we made our way towards the town center for lunch. If you are a UMass alum, you don't need me to tell you where we went for lunch that day. You already know. For everyone else, our lunch stop of choice was Bueno Y Sano - aka the best Mexican restaurant in the entire world. Yep, even better than the ones in Mexico probably. But seriously, Bueno is famous in Amherst (and beyond) for its in-cred-i-ble burritos, tacos and quesadillas. Most people go for the burritos but I'm more of a chicken soft taco girl myself. I ordered two of them while Kara and Kyle each nommed on different types of burritos. Everyone was more than satisfied with their choices - and it was SO good to eat at Bueno again after my 3 or 4 year hiatus.

We followed up lunch with a stop off at a local watering hole - McMurphy's. It was definitely one of the most popular bars in town when we were students, and it's one of the few that has remained relatively unchanged in the years since we graduated. Many of the other bars have changed owners or been renovated or moved completely to new premises in the last 7 years.

Same goes for UMass itself! An impressive number of new buildings have gone up all over the campus. Guess that's what they did with all of our tuition money haha! Has anyone else gone back to their college campus and been like, "Whaaa? Where'd all this new shit come from??"

We took a stroll through campus and checked out our Student Union and Campus Center while we were there. Again - things changing left and right. There are some really fancy new common areas and dining facilities inside of those buildings that have the whole place looking like something from THE FUTURE. Kids these days. They're growing up spoiled! (Shakes fist at young'ns.)

The proper way to conclude our Amherst trip was to drive past a few of our favorite college apartments of yore (#RUSSELLST, #TRIANGLEST, #EASTST, #BESTYEARSOFOURLIVES) for some ceremonial sighs and memory-lane'ing, and then stop into Hadley's The Donut Man for some treats on our way out of town. I was thrilled to see that Donut Man still sells my much-beloved Frozen Hot Chocolate drink - which is just effing out of this world, guys. Tastes EXACTLY like a delicious Swiss Miss hot chocolate, except it's a frozen, ice-blended version. Mmm... I'd like one right now, in fact.

All in all, I'd say this day-trip to the Valley was a roaring success. And, as Kyle keenly pointed out, having had such a lovely time in such a short amount of time (a span of just about 4 or 5 hours, not including the drive) will hopefully encourage us to head to Amherst more often in the future. In other words, students of UMass... see us in a bit.

When was the last time you headed back to your college? Leave a note in the comments and let me know where you went to school! I'm curious :)



  1. The idea of being lost in a corn maze literally terrifies me! But it looks like it was such a gorgeous day! And I had no idea the little pumpkins were called that!

  2. oh you crack me up. my college is always throwing up new buildings left and right. by the time the kids are grown they'll be wicked impressed by my alma mater.

    1. They are seriously upping the value of our degrees haha.

  3. It sounds (and looks) gorgeous! Corn mazes freak me out, but I remember looking at the campus for UMass and thinking it (and every east coast-ish college) was gorgeous. :D


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