I’m not talking about Patagonia, the region of South America — although I’d like to explore that area someday too. We’ve got our own little Patagonia here in Arizona, a funky and stubborn village sitting just a few miles north of Mexico and adjacent to some of the best birding in the North America.
Patagonia is one of those places that makes you wonder “Why is this town here?” There’s no industry and not a lot of tourism. It is about a one hour drive south of Tucson along scenic Route 83, which winds through foothills and between mountain ranges all the way down to Nogales. The secret of the town is the long park that forms a greenbelt between the commercial center of town and the highway; this is where the railroad used to run. Patagonia was once a mining town. Now it’s an enclave for eccentrics and people who want small town life in a warm climate.
In 2006, when we were full-timing, we paused in Patagonia at the behest of our friends Charlie and Lynn, who winter there. The next year we bought the house in Tucson and so we’ve managed to drop in on Charlie & Lynn in Patagonia again every year. The centerpiece of this year’s visit was a picnic lunch orchestrated by Eleanor yesterday, served in the dining room of the little adobe casita that our friends rent.
Since Charlie is a Mercedes enthusiast, and primarily responsible for my interest in the older cars, it was mandatory to take the 1984 Mercedes 300D down for the trip. It was a good choice anyway, as the sedan is a lovely cruising car for open and winding roads like Route 83, and the trunk was big enough for the two coolers and one large wicker picnic basket that Eleanor had packed.
Of course, driving old cars is always a chancy game, and I have always known that there would come a day when a roadside repair would be needed. This was that day (perhaps the first of many). I’ve been running pure biodiesel in the car for a couple of months now, and biodiesel is an effective solvent, so it tends to loosen up all the old crud in the fuel tank. That means eventually the fuel filters will clog up. Sure enough, about eight miles into our trip I noticed a distinct lack of power on acceleration which felt exactly like fuel starvation.
We put up with it for about 30 miles but finally I pulled over along a dusty stretch of Rt 82 near Sahuarita and with Eleanor’s help quickly swapped out the primary fuel filter for a fresh one. This is a simple job, involving merely loosening two hose clamps, removing the in-line filter, and then installing the new one. The filter was pretty dirty, but unfortunately this didn’t solve the issue. Along Rt 82 the road climbs to 5,000 feet of elevation, and the locals who traverse the road are not particularly patient with old cars that can’t break 40 MPH on the hills due to fuel problems. We got aggressively passed a lot more than we deserved.
But all ended well, since I was also carrying a spare secondary fuel filter. With Charlie’s assistance after lunch, I swapped that filter out and the 300D was happily returned to its normal fire-breathing 120-horsepower self, capable of zero to sixty in a leisurely 14.5 seconds. OK, so that’s not really fast. At least now we could get to 60 MPH.
Lunch, for those who are curious, consisted of a cold multi-bean soup with greek yogurt, mushroom-and-onion quiche, French baguette and croissants from the local bakery, Eleanor’s homemade apple butter, apricot preserves, artichoke antipasto, slices of roast beef, fresh giant strawberries, black grapes, yellow cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, baba ghanoush, and apple and strawberry pastry puffs for dessert. After all that, dinner was popcorn.
It’s a good thing I like Patagonia, and the roads leading there, because I’ve got to go twice more in the next couple of weeks. I am expecting to be on call to assist a friend who is going to be acquiring his first Airstream, and I’ve got to lead a group of local car guys down for a day trip. This is a lot of driving but well worth it. Being mostly flat, southern Arizona is not as abundant in twisty & fun drives as the northeast, an aspect of life that I will admit I miss. The ride to P’gia is one of the good ones, and I recommend it to anyone who is down here to explore.