Visitors and locals enjoy a meal in Patagonia, “An American town with more pizazz than most.” Photo by Marion Vendituoli

For most of us who live somewhere for years and years, changes are noted and then fade into the persistence of everyday life. As I recently spent time in Patagonia after being away for two years, I noticed changes that most residents have probably come to take for granted – and some that are still fresh – and some that will linger – like the tragic deaths of two of the town’s leaders in the past year. These will not be forgotten for a long time. 

The first change comes into view. It’s the Dollar Store, a controversial enterprise that had everyone up in arms when I left. It seems to have settled into its corner location and I hear there are folks who are glad to have it and others who still refuse to shop there.

Two years ago the Border Patrol parking lot seemed full. Now it’s gridlocked. Cell towers seem to have proliferated as well.

I was thrilled to see that Grayce’s is still there. That eccentric place was my first introduction to Patagonia, and I recall thinking that a shop with crazy signs and antique cars meant the town would be full of surprises. 

There are new signs to read. Velvet Elvis’ is newly painted, Patagonia Health and Fitness is a bustling place where Metamorphosis used to be and MJ’s Restaurant has replaced Mercedes’. The south side of Naugle Ave is a much busier part of town than I remember, and traffic moves at a reasonable speed – a welcome change from the past.

I was delighted to see a new mural on the public bathrooms, and across the street Mesquite Grove Gallery has shrunk and moved next door. The banners that mark its location are new – a bright spot on the street.

Next door to Red Mountain Foods, a daily yard sale was going on. It felt impermanent but it was nice to see some sign of life in the otherwise vacant lot surrounded by an unwelcoming chain link fence. 

The hotel finally got its bar open. How long did we wait for that to happen? And it’s cozy and the acoustics are good if the TVs are turned down.

The other thing everyone waited for when I lived there was to see what might happen in the old bank building that was unused for so long. South32 Hermosa has made an office there with its quiet sign that belies the impact it is having on the area. 

Out on Harshaw Road, the unpaved parking lot by the trailer park is a place for countless mud spattered trucks with orange flags. I’m told that South32 has purchased the rest of the open land on that side of Harshaw. Certainly these trucks represent an upswing in the local economy, but Dave Martin’s long horns are gone and the Tree of Life feels like a ghost town. After a while these changes will feel familiar, but to see remembered territory in transition is poignant. 

What hasn’t changed is the spirit of the town. Patagonia is still a small community with a big heart, a great volunteer fire department, a remarkable library, a youth center like no other, a museum full of rich history, active churches, solid schools, and good basic health care. Here live artists, laborers, merchants, ranchers, environmentalist, treasure hunters, rich and poor, young and old, dark and fair – an American town with more pizazz than most. I miss it a lot.