‘TerraSol’ is the heading on the business card of Mary Tolena’s new business just outside of Patagonia on Harshaw Road. Just underneath that script, in just a few words, “Camping, Community & Music,” Tolena describes what she is offering at TerraSol to visitors to her property.
A Seattle native and former corporate executive, Tolena moved from Seattle to San Diego in 2011, where she lived for five years before becoming “happily homeless” after striking out in her van. She travelled across the U.S., camping and staying with friends. When the pandemic hit she spent most of her time camping alone as she didn’t want to be a ‘Typhoid Mary.’ It got lonesome doing that but was also not all bad, she said.
After three and a half years of wandering, camping and meeting people from all over the U.S., she wound up in Patagonia in October, 2020, camping at the Harshaw Rd. RV park. The spirit of Patagonia was so strong that she began to ask about available property that might entice her to settle down. A resident mentioned that just next door was a place that had been for sale for two years and maybe that would work for her. On a whim, Tolena looked at it, but thought it needed way too much work. The yard was overgrown and the house, built in 1905 of adobe, was in a sad and shabby state. That night while camping at her site, she had an epiphany, “Like it just rolled down the mountain,” that she should “just buy the place.” She bought the property in November, 2020.
Since the early 1970s, Tolena has had an interest in creating community. In her former career, she had focused on adult group team building. Purchasing this property was the realization of her dream, to create community by making a place for people to gather and share their life experiences.
With the Arizona Trail passing close by, Tolena recognized the need in the Patagonia area for a place for hikers, bikers and explorers to rest and recover. She set about getting the proper paperwork filed for permission to begin this new endeavor. She stressed how her new business would benefit the local community, as the travelers would need to go into town for supplies and a meal that they didn’t have to cook over a campfire.
Tolena cleared the overgrown yard and made a space for hikers to set up their tents. She smoothed the driveway for those wanderers on wheels to park their bicycles or traveling vans.
With an outdoor kitchen installed, loaner clothes purchased for those who needed to wash their trail-grubby garments and extra blankets available, Tolena created many of the comforts of home. A shower was installed on the front porch, complete with opaque shower curtains, and a little store of necessities, in case the stores in town are closed. Laundry facilities are available at the RV park next door; Tolena keeps a stock of quarters for those who don’t have change in their knapsacks for the washers and dryers. She has charging stations set up for cell phones. A popcorn machine and soda are available for afternoon campers, free for the first round. Mornings offer coffee, tea and cocoa included with the camping fee. Tolena has also added some bicycles to her inventory for hikers to borrow for a trip to town if needed.
Carrie Whitehill, the owner of the nearby “Goatlandia” Airbnb and a friend of Tolena, found that she needed an area for some of her customers to camp. Whitehill’s yard is set up exclusively for her goats and, she stated, “Goats and tents don’t really go together.” She now refers those customers to TerraSol and offers a shuttle for their transport to TerraSol. Tolena also offers a shuttle service to the AZ trailheads out of Patagonia.
High season for TerraSol has seen travelers from England, Scotland, Japan, Germany, Canada, and Sweden, as well as from most of the states in the U.S., take advantage of the hospitality and community that Tolena has created. Evenings around the campfire in the backyard are filled with music, stories, and the feeling of connection with each other and with the community around them. Making a memory that will stay with travelers for the rest of their lives is the dream and the purpose that Tolena hopes to achieve.
Once the busy season is over, TerraSol is available to local groups for outdoor gatherings, picnics, workshops, campfire evenings and facilitated drum circles. “I think of TerraSol more as a gathering space than just a campground and want it to be a resource for Patagonians as well as passers-through,” Tolena said.