A Story About The Rock Mazes at Runyan Canyon

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

Has anybody hiked Runyan Canyon? Have you seen the rock maze at the bottom of the trail? Do you know the story behind the maze? Well, I do. I know the story … well … I know a story. It’s not the story but it’s a story. It’s my story.

If you’re entering Runyan from the Fuller gate there are three paths you can take: the stairs on the right; the paved path through the center and the more difficult, goat trail on the left. No matter which path you hike to get to the summit, you could always look down at the base of the valley and see this rock maze circular in shape. It was not designed to be a difficult maze. It was more of a work of art.

My thought every time I saw it was who would be so generous to gift this world with such an amazing piece of art? That would be my friend Noel Laukhuf.

I met Noel playing competitive volleyball at North Avenue Beach in Chicago. We would oftentimes pair up. When the beaches shut down for the winter, we would retreat to various indoor leagues and continue to play. We played everywhere together. Our friendship grew outside of volleyball as well. We actually ended living right around the block from each other. The reason we bonded was because we were both on the weird side. Not in a creepy way but more of a socially awkward way. He was an extreme extrovert and I was an introvert that failed at being an extrovert. But to say Noel was a unique individual was common among those who really knew him well.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of the common sounds you hear in Chicago, in the winter, after it snows is the sound of someone shoveling. Everyone has to do it at one point or another.

It was a relatively early on a Sunday morning. It had just snowed and I heard the familiar sound of someone shoveling off in the distance. I didn’t think much of it. A few hours go by and I still hear someone shoveling but the sound was getting closer to my house. Then another hour goes by and the sound is now coming from right in FRONT of my house. I thought it was the next door neighbor. I immediately thought am I going to be the only asshole on the block who didn’t shovel the sidewalk? I totally didn’t want to go out there. So I didn’t. A few minutes later the sound of shoveling was now ON my front porch.

I stepped outside and there was Noel shoveling. I asked him, “what the hell are you doing?” And he said, “I’m shoveling.” I looked down and noticed he shoveled the entire block. I asked if he wanted to take a break. I could make some food and some hot chocolate. He said, “that would be great but let me just finish these last two houses and I’ll come hang out.”

That was just one of many examples of his incredible thoughtfulness and generosity. There’s plenty more but for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to provide that one.

We lost touch when he moved to Louisville and I moved to Los Angeles. I knew he wasn’t the type to leave a digital footprint in the world but he had a habit of making lasting impressions in people’s heart nonetheless. Trying to find him with the internet was nearly impossible. Believe me, I tried. So every time I went to Runyan and looked down at the circle, I would always think of my friend that I lost touch with. I actually started calling it The Laukhuf Circle.

I continued to search for him. I actually spent two years trying to find him but had no luck. I did the people search that always appears to be a scam but I said, fuck it. If it brings me closer to him, it’s worth the shot. After casting a huge net trying to find him, one of them hit.

I finally got a call from him. I nearly wept. For a couple of months, we connected through email, text and phone calls. Then he dropped the bomb on me. He told me he got married and his wife wanted to spend their honeymoon in LA. I was so excited. I’m like please stay at my place. They spent 5 weeks here and I took them everywhere. One of the places I took him was Runyan but had totally forgotten about the maze until his wife, Kelly Kirke-Laukhuf noticed it. I was like, “oh, my god. How could I forgot something like that?” I told them that I call that the Laukhuf Circle. She was like, “what? Do you really call it that?” I said, “yes, because I know of only one person in the world who do something like that and it was him.” She was like, “really?” And he even confirmed that he would do something like that. She immediately began to understand the magnitude of this bond we had. I then told her about the shoveling. And Noel chimed in, “I still do that.”

About they returned from their honeymoon, a month later, I got a call from his wife and she told me he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I knew his father had survived cancer so I thought he could make it too. There were all kinds of alternative treatments that he could do but ultimately he decided to do chemo.

Throughout the next year, I sent him all kinds of holistic remedies, even pot. Hoping that would help. Then one day, nearly a year ago to this day, I got a call from Kelly saying he’s not doing good. I decided to drive across the country to see him. At the time, I was driving for Lyft so I created this Hope for Noel campaign to drive with the Lyft app destination set to Louisville. I thought it would be cool to pick up passengers along the way. The day I left, I picked a passenger a few blocks from my house, and drove her to her work, which was only a few blocks from her house. That was my only passenger the entire trip. Total disaster.

The night I was due to arrive, his wife called and said “he had to go to the hospital to get some pain meds and he’ll be home in time to greet me.” But when I got there, the news was that he was never to leave the hospital. He died four days later.” He was my best friend that I lost touch with for 15 years, was able to reconnect with for a brief moment but then lost him again. And that is my story behind the rock mazes at Runyan Canyon. That is why I call it The Laukhuf Circle.

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