Baja’s East Cape Sportfishing Comes Of Age

Continued From : Baja’s East Cape Sportfishing – It Began With A Goat Ranch

Another addition to the management team was a brash MIT graduate, Ted Bonney; fleeing from the IRS in the early 1960’s, he and his wife, Virginia, aboard their 30-foot, gas-powered, wood cruiser, found their way to Rancho Buena Vista East Cape Hotel.

“Steam and smoke were pouring out of the engine box, the bilge was rapidly filling with saltwater,” Bonney related the story to me years ago. “I had no choice but to beach the boat quickly. At full throttle I hit the beach in front of a group of Mexicans, surrounding a gringo who seemed to be in charge.”

Bonney leaped from the smoking boat, feet crunching on the damp sand and walked up to a bemused Colonel Gene Walters. Thrusting out his hand, he said,

“My name is Ted Bonney and I need a job.” Thus, he closed one chapter in his life and opened another.

Capitalizing on skills he had acquired while serving with the pit crews for trans-continental road races, Bonney was initially hired as a mechanic to repair the gasoline engines that powered RBV’s fishing fleet.

His major handicap was the language; he needed to learn to speak Spanish quickly. He turned to Mexican television and spent hours teaching himself by watching Spanish cartoons.

Over the years, not only did Bonney build a home for himself, but he oversaw the construction of the airstrip, the bar, the swimming pool, jacuzzi, a growing number of guest rooms, a two-story home for the Hermosillo’s and upgrades to the colonel’s home as well as building the round, personal suite of Ray Cannon.

His contribution to the infrastructure was the design and construction of the first portable pier that are now considered a must for most beachfront resorts! But topping everything was his ultimate design and construction of the first sewage treatment plant in the area which became the model for future plants at surrounding hotels.

When California Department of Fish and Game and Mr. James Squire approached the hotel about instituting a program to encourage tag and release to gather more data about billfish, Chuck Walters eagerly agreed to implement the program.

Bonney became an enthusiastic supporter of the T&R concept and Rancho Buena Vista became one of the first hotels in East Cape to embrace the program.

Annual awards were given to the skipper who tagged and released the most marlin. One of RBV’s Captains;

Jesus Araiza, 2nd from the left, was awarded the High Skipper Award 19 different years during his career!

Like the world he inhabited, Ted Bonney was as prickly as the cactus that surrounded him, and often as dry and unforgiving as that same environment. Yet for many who came to him for help or advice, he could be the oasis that helped them survive in a harsh, foreign country.

Over the years, Bonney’s cranky outbursts with guests and employees alike became the basis for many stories. However, his generosity often overshadowed those outbursts…smoothing out the rough edges while earning him admiration and friendships and making a lasting impact on the East Cape community with his personal kindness to those he cared for.

In November of 1991, Ted Bonney had a massive heart attack and was med-evacuated back to California. He died shortly thereafter, leaving a gaping hole in the management team that was filled by several of the Mexican partners’ sons.

Tony Marron’s arrival came in the early 1970’s, coinciding with the rebuild of RBV after a fire destroyed the bar and kitchen.

His youthful enthusiasm and willingness to do whatever duties he was given served him well. Guests appreciated his “can do” attitude to their requests, combined with his easy smile and solutions. Over the years, he earned the reputation of being the “Go to Guy” by guests as well as the ever-expanding group of part-time residents that ultimately flocked to the area.

What began as just a job evolved into a way of life as he began his own family that flourished.

One of Ray Cannon’s favorite tricks was to bait a billfish and not set the hook until boat backed up close to the fish. If everything worked right Cannon would get the perfect leaping marlin photo.

Tony earned the friendship and respect of other families in the area who were developing their own properties. The Van Wormers, Valdez’s and John Ireland were all part of his growing circle of friends in the community and beyond.

Of course, Ray Cannon, credited with the early promotion of the area and RBV specifically, admired Marron’s performance and often praised Marron as “the Walter’s secret weapon” keeping everything running smoothly.

Marron was there throughout the change in the management of the hotel, one of the employees who greeted the longtime guests as they returned year after year, ensuring their visits retained the atmosphere that they were used to.

During the 1980s, after the frantic growth of the preceding decade, the number of guests leveled out. On into the ’90s the number of hotels and sportfishing fleets grew and competition increased.

All the while, Marron’s legion of admirers continued to grow.

Chuck Walters and his father Colonel Gene P. Walters at La Capilla in 1977 shortly before the Colonel’s death.

“I remember in the early ’60s we had a report that General Eisenhower was coming to Baja and might visit RBV,” Chuck Walters reminisced. When a twin-engine Beechcraft circled to land, the Colonel jumped into his little red Jeep and roared to the 2,500-foot strip. The first person off the plane was Eisenhower, the former President of the United States. Pop threw back his head, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

Eisenhower replied, “I’m General Dwight D. Eisenhower.”
Pop countered, “I’m Colonel Eugene P. Walters. I served under you in Europe.”
Eisenhower replied, “I don’t know you either.”
Cannon continued to write about Baja and Rancho Buena Vista and his book, The Sea of Cortez was published by Sunset in 1966.

In January 1969, the “Casa Cannon” Round House was constructed by Ted Bonney and a lifetime lease was executed between Ray and Colonel Walters at the rate of about $21 per month. For the remainder of his career, Ray Cannon considered Rancho Buena Vista his “Casa” in Baja.

During the early ’70s, the Walters – father and son – oversaw the development of the 250-hectare resort property, as others in the area played “catch-up”.

Bobbie Van Wormer, who once worked at RBV, married the former Rosa María “Cha Cha” Ruiz Gonzalez (they were married in Santiago on June 27, 1965), and they opened a resort operation of their own, Punta Colorado. The Valdez family from La Paz purchased the governor’s mansion and opened another. And there were others.

By the mid-1970s, construction had caught up with demand: a bar, swimming pool, dining room, a kitchen offering three meals a day served family style, seven days a week, plus a fleet of 20 cruisers, kept in operation by a staff of 100+ employees year-round.

Western Outdoor News Baja editor Gene Kira with Carla Laemmle, in Ray Cannon’s

Then, in June 1977, the indomitable Ray Cannon succumbed to an inoperable brain tumor.

“Ray took his final voyage on the Sea of Cortez on June 25, 1977 when his ashes were scattered upon the waters of Canal de San Lorenzo near La Paz, just north of East Cape, by Carla Laemmle, the beautiful and loving woman with whom he had worked and shared the most profound intimacies of his life for the preceding 42 years.

As the solemn motorcade and police escort passed through the city that Ray had watched grow from little more than a village, the people paused in their daily tasks and lined the roadside in a sorrowful, silent tribute to the American they had known as ‘Señor Cannon.’ It was a tribute not only to the man they had loved for so many years, but also to their own memories, for they knew that something beautiful had passed into history; their land would never be the same again,” Gene Kira wrote in his The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez.

Ironically, Colonel Gene P. Walters, the first of the Walters’ Dynasty, died several months later. He sought things out of the ordinary – a maverick with a taste for the good life.

The two men from different backgrounds who had shared an intense love for the Sea of Cortez had forged a lasting friendship over decades and died within a few months of each other.

L to R, Chuck, Eunice, Jean, Monta, Col. Gene Walters, Bob Gardiner(Marks friend, artist who won Oscar for clay animation), Mark, Nann (Marks sister) Toddy (Mark and Nann’s mother) Paula Schoepe ( Marks Girlfriend from Newport Beach) circa 1959.

Mark Walters, grandson, son, and third generation Baja entrepreneur, had first traveled to Baja with his parents in a small private plane when he was seven years old. His experiences of those early years in East Cape infused him with a profound affection for Baja and its people.

It was 1979 when his father, Chuck, was stricken with cancer. Mark, 33, returned to Rancho Buena Vista Hotel from Las Vegas to be with his ailing father and assist with management. He had worked for the Sahara Hotel in Vegas after receiving his college degree and had married his sweetheart, Diana.

By early ’81, Mark, along with acting managers Ted Bonney and Mauricio Hermosillo, were effectively running the operation as Chuck’s health continued to fail. On May 4, 1981, he passed away in a Los Angeles hospital. His body was returned to Rancho Buena Vista, where he was laid to rest beside Tansey in the small gravesite at the entrance to the hotel.

Confronted with increasing competition and an unstable economy, RBV was struggling and the team attempted to find methods to flatten out the reservation’s peaks and valleys, looking for ways to improve occupancy during the off-season throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s.

Mark and Diana easily fell into the laid-back East Cape routine – daily tennis on the hotel’s court, golf on any of many groomed, professional courses, fishing and occasionally trips back to Las Vegas to visit friends and family.

Their own family grew, first with son Paul, born in La Paz in 1985 followed by his brother Charlie born in 1987. Their lives seemed to reflect the perfect union.

Neither Diana nor Mark is quite sure what brought on the divorce – a combination of many things. Perhaps the only thing that they seem to agree on is that the marriage was over by 1989 — Diana and the boys left Baja and Mark remained.

A decade later, Mark married Yesenia (Jesi) Manriquez Gonzalez who moved into his house overlooking RBV along with her six-month old son, Sammi.
“Sammi has called me dad ever since,” Walters proudly acknowledged. “He is in his final year of dental school in Guadalajara.”

Mark’s older two sons both live in Eugene, Ore., but still visit often and consider Baja their home.

In 2007, the property known as La Capilla was sold to a group that also took out an option-to-purchase RBV but the contract expired in 2011 and Rancho Buena Vista closed abruptly,

However, the hotel was reopened and sprang back to life under the watchful eye of Mark Walters along with Tony Marron and his son Tomas who worked the front desk. The bar remained open, rooms were rented on a nightly basis, and the kitchen continued to be operational and available for private parties. The reborn hotel, with fewer rooms and no dining room, was an instant hit, becoming very popular with locals, relocated foreign retirees, as well as with many former clients.

Several years ago, Tomas became ill and gave up his post at the front desk while his father remained and could usually be found in the afternoons tending bar while visiting with locals and guests.

But in January 2018, Tony Marron unexpectedly died, prompting an outpouring of emotional expressions from the community as well as the many guests who had met him during his 44-year career at Hotel Rancho Buena Vista.

The hotel is listed for sale. In the meantime, it continues to operate and Mark and Jesi say if it sells they will simply build a new home on one of their properties and remain in the area.

“This is our home and we just want to live happily ever after!” he said.
“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,” continued Mark.

“All those barbecues strategically placed around the pool are in use almost every weekend. We have even added a DIY barbecue 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.

“Occasionally, she and I stop by in the afternoon when different groups are serving everything from carne asada to cerviche. We are often invited to sample their fantastic dishes. It’s great!”

“We also host weddings and parties and offer two 31-foot Island Hopper sport fishers for our guests now.”

On my last trip of 2017, after chatting with Tony in the bar, I sat by the famous rock table still in its place of honor on the long porch where hundreds if not thousands of card games had taken place, reminiscing about the many years I had enjoyed that very porch while sipping a cocktail and watching as boats came in to unload their guests at the end of their fishing day or in the evenings, watching cattle wander along the beach.

East Cape SportsfishingThe cattle are long gone now, locked away behind their owner’s fences, but the view is the same. Gazing over the white, sandy beach at the glistening blue Sea of Cortez, the thought crossed my mind: The Walters dynasty remains historically significant and while it may seem somewhat diminished by time, Mark the grandson, has proven, even with the passage of time, it isn’t over yet.

That Baja Guy-Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world record...