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Spirit of Community at Montezuma Valley Market

Where you could meet someone you'd otherwise never meet. Or find comfort on either side of a long, sometimes solitary adventure.

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Until last week, Montezuma Valley Market stood at the edge of the high sierras and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park as the spot for thru-hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail, and as a community beacon for the tiny nearby towns in an otherwise remote location. The market was a one-stop shop for PCT provisions (and a hot shower), a beer garden for locals and passersby alike, and a nourishing connection to the local ecosystem via the orchard's own produce.

But it was always more than that for anyone who passed through its doors. Montezuma Valley Market literally encompassed the converging spirit of community in the high desert. And it was Kemi and Mike who opened the doors for that very purpose.

"We didn't take it over to make money. We bought Montezuma Valley Market to keep the heartbeat in the community," said co-owner, Kemi Pavlocak.

The couple purchased the market from its previous owners in 2018. Kemi is active duty Navy. Her partner, Mike, is a veteran. When they were stationed in San Diego, they became familiar with the commercial property while organizing a major clean-up and tree-planting initiative on more than 80 acres outside the Park. It was then when they began to understand the importance of the market. And they began to dream of its potential.

"Under prior management, this building wasn't zoned as a place to congregate. While it was a vital place in this area for people to purchase goods, that's all they could do. It was just in and out. People couldn't loiter. Which meant people couldn't connect. We worked to change that."

Kemi and Mike fought to get their license change so people could chill with a soda or a beer and simply spend time there. From then on, people could flow through the market, spark conversations over a beverage (or a shared steak by the firepit, says Kemi). Inside and out, the rustic structure between town and trailhead embodied connectivity.

"Visitors began to share conversations with strangers and broaden our community. Hikers, cyclists, anyone passing by. The world came to Ranchita."

More recently, the couple set their passion toward another goal: Furthering the economic development in the area through education and environmental sustainability initiatives. They call it The Outdoors Project, and it began with the purchase of that 80 acres of land they helped clean up. They aim to attract business and tourism into the region to showcase its natural beauty and to further foster the locals-meets-adventurers kind of community they've nurtured at their market.

These plans felt hopeful until just a couple of weeks ago when disaster struck and Montezuma Valley Market burned to the ground. Less than four years from the start of their grand plans, and just heading into peak Pacific Crest Trail hiking season. There is no other oasis for Ranchita or rest stop for those enroute to their outdoor destination. Now, the nearest market is 15 or 20 miles down the road.

Despite this catastrophe, Kemi and Mike are determined to rebuild. For Ranchita, for adventurers, and for the lively community the market nourished in the San Diego High Desert. They're active on Instagram, where you'll find day-by-day updates on their progress to #rebuildmvm. Stop by their feed, strike up a thoughtful conversation, and plan on making it out there in person the very next opportunity you get.

You can keep up with their fundraising efforts via Instagram or via their website.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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