Estes Park's Stanley Hotel was the inspiration for Stephen King's novel The Shining, but it has long faced one key problem: The hedge maze that audiences saw in the iconic film version? It didn't exist.
Now, 35 years later, the hotel finally has that hedge maze. Sort of.
"It's a little smaller than I would have thought," remarked Earl South as he walked through the maze for the first time. "I think I had the expectation of like, BOOM! here's the maze, and not having to see the process of it growing in. So probably in a year or two it's going to be really spectacular."
That's the idea, said Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Chief Engineer Jason Schneider.
"They've seen the movie and now they want to get lost in it," Schneider said. "And that's the hope that we have, is that they get lost in the Stanley."
Right now, the maze's mix of Armstrong and Spartan junipers varies in height between 2-and-5-feet. Not exactly something you're going to get lost in. Just wait, though, Schneider said. In about 18 months, the maze is expected to reach its goal height.
"We're going to cap these off at about 5, 6 feet tall so that it gives everybody that hidden feeling, but at the same time, you can still find your kid when you look over the edge," he said.
In November 2014, the hotel announced a contest asking for maze design submissions from the public. The winning design, from New York City architect Mairim Dallaryan Standing, takes visitors through a u-shaped maze that features an 'S' on one end and an 'H' on the other.
Those out walking the maze on a recent fall morning said it's already more difficult than they expected. Even at 6-feet, 4-inches tall, Earl South made a number of wrong turns.
"It was fun. It was fun… after the initial, 'oops, that's not the right way to go, I guess I better start paying attention,'" South said. "I think once it grows in, it's gonna' be amazing. So it'll be fun. Right now, it's gonna' be fun. It'll be great. Bring the kids out. They'll have a blast. Little girls running around – 'Red rum, red rum!'"
The Stanley's spooky connections – both fictitious and historical – draws visitors from all over the world, said Brooke Burnham, director of communications and public relations for tourism program Visit Estes Park.
Stories of unexplained phenomena have hovered around the hotel for decades, including the ghosts of the Stanley's founders Freelan and Flora Stanley, who are rumored to often make their presence known in the billiards room and playing the antique Steinway piano. Those on tours often report feeling an unexplained presence or seeing ghostly images.
Burnham herself was on the fence about the stories until she took a photo on a tour and later saw two inexplicable bright eyes, like those of an animal.
"I'm a believer," she said.
The hotel frequently hosts paranormal tours, has been the subject of ghost hunter reality shows and is the headquarters for the annual Stanley Film Festival, which is dedicated to horror movies.
The Stanley's tie to The Shining is probably one of the most frequent questions Burnham gets.
"Some people get confused," she said. "They think the Stanley Hotel was the hotel in the movie."
It wasn't. The building that played the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick's film sits in the shadow of Mount Hood, Oregon. The hedge maze scenes? Those were shot in England on a soundstage. The lesser-known 1997 made-for-TV movie The Shining? That was shot at the Stanley Hotel.
Visiting haunted locations is a hobby for Eric Lopez and his girlfriend, Rebecca Giglio. The Las Vegas couple said they were excited to stay at the Stanley, where Lopez mistakenly thought Kubrick's The Shining was filmed.
"We saw the movie and of course they had the maze in the movie and that's what I was expecting," Lopez said.
The couple still enjoyed their stay at the haunted location (even though they didn't have any paranormal run-ins) and even got a little bit lost in the maze. Giglio said she sees its potential draw – especially when it grows in.
"We'll have to come back, just to do the maze," she said.