After a long three months of quarantine, Jim and I ventured out on a Saturday in Mid-June 2020. Although cases of Covid-19 are up all over Arizona, we set out to explore the Ghost Towns in the Patagonia Mountains southeast of Patagonia, Arizona. We had not been to Lochiel and Duquense and we needed to fill in the blanks. Our other goal was to see the effects that the new South32 Mining Operation was having on the landscape and the town of Patagonia, the quiet little hamlet in the Patagonia Mountains. Patagonia is known for an Arts and Crafts Festival in the fall, Paton's Hummingbird Center, Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, and Patagonia Lake State Park. Our plan was to grab takeout at the Velvet Elvis Pizza Company and head on out to Sonoita Creek Preserve for a picnic among the critters.
Our drive took us straight through Sonoita, past a demonstration in support of the Police, then past Lightning Ridge Cellars and onto the dirt road at Canelo, where the road curves 90 degrees left toward Parker Canyon Lake. It is called Canelo Road and turns into dirt immediately. There is no sign any longer telling you that you are on the right road. We just had to have faith that I remembered the road correctly. Click here to Read More
The road travels up and over the hill and drops you down into the San Rafael Valley, with the Santa Cruz River below. Giant cottonwood trees mark the riverbed. The last time we were out this way there was water in the river. But, then it was monsoon season.
At the bottom of the hill, we followed the sign to Lochiel. There is not much left to see. We stopped at La Noria, a well maintained schoolhouse, to take a few pictures. Lochiel was a border crossing town. The old, deteriorating Custom House was in the opposite direction. There was no visible activity pointing to an increase in border security or construction that we could tell. Just a jeep, wondering what we were doing there. If change is coming, it isn't there yet. Still sleepy, still quiet.
Heading back west we soon came to the monument to Fray Marcos, a Franciscan Missionary priest, whose report of seeing Cibola, the City of Gold, which launched the failed Coronado Expedition to find the city.
Just past the monument is the turnoff to Duquense. Since we had heard that there was not much left of Duquense and not knowing just how far off our route it would take us, and the fact that we were getting hungry, we decided to leave it for another day.
Our next stop was the new South32 Hermosa Mine Project. We wanted to see the impact that this has made on the area and the town of Patagonia. I was intrigued after posting the article from the Patagonia Regional Times last week, about the 76 year old fellow who had lived there and would go back in a heartbeat "if it wasn't for all the trucks".
Just before we get to the main entrance to South32, the Hermosa Project, we began to see fencing to stop rock fall onto the road. Then chainlink, the main entrance and a nice road up the top. The mine is scheduled to open in 2021, barring lawsuits and the like. The Patagonia Regional Times reports that there will be as many as 100 or so trucks a day traveling through town. That sounds like a lot. Goodbye sleepytown. But today, it was quiet as a pack rat.
After visiting the new mine, we headed off through Harshaw to Patagonia for lunch. Since we did not really know what to expect after all that has recently transpired, we decided to do takeout At the Velvet Elvis and have a picnic at Sonoita Creek Preserve, a Nature Conservancy site.
As we passed Harshaw at the giant Cottonwood near the cemetery, there were two motor homes camping there. Perhaps they were relatives of people gone by. The Harshaw Cemetery does appear to be maintained.
So, on the way to the Velvet Elvis, we called in our order, two 10" pizzas, one with half sausage and olives and the other half Pepperoni and one Mariachi Blanco. We brought our own wine. Someone took our order. I asked how long? She said about 15 minutes. Perfect as we were 5 miles away on a dirt road.
As we drove into town, on the right was a large parking area that had been cleared for a few outbuildings, trucks and trailers. I am told that up to 200 people are already working the Hermosa Project. On the corner was a visitor's office for South 32. Things are getting serious. Did I mention that the mine will be underground and Zinc is going to be mined there. The office was closed as it was a Saturday.
Onwards to lunch. There was no parking to speak of at the Velvet Elvis, so Jim parked at the Market next door. I do not recall seeing it there the last time we were in Patagonia. There was a pleasant patio in front with three tables, all unoccupied, one in the shade. I thought, we could have easily eaten here. Inside, there was one table on the left, occupied by a family of 4 or 5. There were only a few tables, surprisingly making the place look smaller. A young woman sat in the corner eating lunch. "Karen?" she said. I answered in the affirmative. She put on her mask and trotted off to get the pizzas. 2 minutes later, I was out the door with my stash and we headed off to 4th Street, turning right around the Saloon which appeared to be better occupied, made a left and drove a mile past Audubon's Paton Center, which was closed, to Sonoita Creek Preserve, CLOSED! DOH!
We ended up at the park in the middle of town, where one other family was having a picnic. That was it. Just us. Social Distancing not necessary. Currently in this area, I believe there are only 5 cases of COVID-19, and I am sure they would like to keep it that way.
All in all, we enjoyed our Sunday drive on a Saturday, reacquainted ourselves with the neighborhood, saw some changes in the works, for better or worse. If you like this sleepy town sleepy, it may not be sleepy for long. I am sure there is a good argument to be made for either point of view. I just hope the new Hermosa Mine will be 21st century responsible.
Articles on the Hermosa Project
If you are interested in the new mining proposals in the Patagonia Mountains, here are a few articles that I have found. Information is a bit spotty.
Patagonia Regional Times Hermosa Project. The report from 2018.
AZ Big Media: an Arizona Pro Business Website has this to say.
The Patagonia Area Resource Alliance is dedicated to making sure the watershed, the Patagonia mountains and its wildlife are protected.