Hotel Rancho Buena Vista was brought to life in 1952 when Herb Tansey began transforming the “goat farm” into a fishing destination. After several trips with his pal Ray Cannon, retired U.S. Army Colonel Gene Walters bought the 12-room hotel, expanded it and turned it into the resort of choice for his friends from Hollywood, including Richard Boone, Chuck Connors, James Garner, John Wayne, and even Dwight Eisenhower after he was no longer President.
Located on the shore of the Sea of Cortez south of La Paz and north of Cabo San Lucas, the Ranch offered some of the finest fishing in the world.
MARK WALTERS, OWNER of Rancho Buena Vista and grandson of its founder, with bartender Tony Marron.
The hotel thrived, adding rooms and the first portable pier, thanks to the ingenuity of a transplanted MIT graduate, Ted Bonney, who escaped the U.S. and made his home at the Ranch until his death; plus generations of local families who were employees of the hotel… captains, waiters, cooks, and maids. And there were the three generations of Walters: the Colonel, then Chuck and Mark.
Then, in 2008, with Mark Walters as the on-site manager, Seby R. “Russ” Jones, President of Davidson and Jones Corporation of North Carolina, elected to take out an option to purchase this quiet, successful fishing lodge with the intent of turning it into something first-class, something grand… the first of its kind in East Cape. But they didn’t succeed.
In 2011, Jones announced via e-mail the permanent closing of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, noting that, “RBV has aged well, but we no longer foresee the ability to keep the hotel in good enough shape to offer that experience. So, after six decades of operation, it’s time to say goodbye.”
This was quickly followed by a second e-mail from Mark Walters, a partner of Rancho Buena Vista Hotel, and grandson of the Colonel, and third generation Baja entrepreneur. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, Walters wrote, “The reports of RBV’s closing are greatly exaggerated.”
He continued, “The Davidson and Jones Corporation has been managing/operating the hotel for the past few years and has decided to call it quits. The actual owners, the Hermosillo family and myself, are currently reviewing our options. The hotel will be closed only temporarily.”
Since 2011, Rancho Buena Vista with Walters as on-site manager, has confounded the dire predictions of the U.S. businessman by going back to the basics of capitalizing on existing assets.
On a recent visit to RBV, I was pleased to see the seaside pool surrounded by both Mexican and American families taking advantage of another sparkling sunny Baja summer day. Kids and adults alike plunged into the pool to cool off in the afternoon heat.
Later, I caught up with Mark in the palapa-covered bar overlooking the Sea of Cortez.
“Have a seat,” he beckoned, pulling out a leather-woven rattan chair. “Join me for a virgin Bloody Mary? I hope you like Tabasco sauce!” he grinned as he ordered a couple from Tony Marron behind the bar.
In answer to my question of what he had been up to, Mark replied, “Still playing lots of golf and tennis.” Tony set the drinks on the leather-topped table and Mark continued. “I’ve also been playing quite a bit in our band, ‘Skeleton Key.’ We’ve had 50 gigs since last November,” he said with an infectious grin.
“Aside from that, it’s business as usual, more or less, since the Davidson and Jones Corporation group fled in 2011. The Hermosillos and I first decided to reopen the bar, which was always popular. Next, we started renting rooms on a nightly basis. The basic difference is that while the kitchen is operational, it is used only occasionally for private parties.”
“RBV has become very popular with locals, with relocated foreign retirees, as well as with many of our former clients. We have 25 rooms available during the week and during the summer months they are very popular with both working and professional families and with groups from Cabo and La Paz who just want to get away for a weekend.”
“On weekends, all those barbeques you see out there around the pool are in use. We even added a DIY barbeque where folks in the bar can cook their own hot dogs and hamburgers. My wife Jesi came up with that idea and it was a good one,” he said with pride.
“Jesi and I often stop by in the afternoon when different groups are serving everything from carne asada to ceviche. They often invite us to sample their fantastic dishes. It’s great! We also host weddings and parties, you know, everything from birthdays to anniversaries. It’s all a lot of fun! We even offer two 31-foot Island Hopper sportfishers for our guests now.”
They recently re-listed the hotel.
“If it sells, Jesi and I will simply build a new house on some property we own and remain in the area. This is our home and we just want to live happily ever after.”
Not only is the hotel back and thriving, so is Mark Walters.
“You know, I almost killed myself with addiction by the time I was 38. Now I look back at all the fun I’ve had from then to now, and I’m so thankful that I had friends who stood by me through that period of my life,” Mark concluded.
Although the “suits” decided to decline on their company’s option to purchase RBV and were willing to walk away from six decades of history, Mark Walters and his partners, the Hermosillos, went back to basics and breathed new life into the old girl; RBV seems to be thriving once again.
As we departed, the laughter and shouts echoed in my ears as Mark and I walked past the pool. Then we headed to my Roadtrek, strolling past the famous rock table still sitting in its place of honor on the long porch where hundreds if not thousands of card games had taken place, on past the scales where an equal number of trophy fish had been hung and photographed during the past seven decades.
The historical significance of RBV surrounded us like the cool breezes that were blowing across the sea. I carefully stepped across the cattle guard as Walters commented, “We have had many great folks visit Rancho Buena Vista throughout the years; I miss seeing them, and mourn the loss of the ones who are gone forever.”
But Rancho Buena Vista endures.