Arizona Cattle Ranchers Love OC Beaches
By C. MacDonald
CORONA DEL MAR–Some of the nicest people in California aren’t from California. Today at the State Beach, I ran into five of the neatest folks you’d ever want to meet–the Wiltbanks. These vacationers from Arizona are genuinely wonderful humans, grateful to enjoy the swimming, sunbathing and hiking that the 1/2 mile long sandy beach (near the east entrance to Newport Harbor) offers.
I first spotted 11-year-old Colten Wiltbank’s head, which was the only part showing, as he lay happily buried up to his head in sand. Nearby were his amused pop, Brian, a fifth generation owner of the Richville Ranch in the unincorporated area of Apache County, 2 1/2 hours southeast of Flagstaff, and wife Ginger, also a fifth generation Arizonian. Further enjoying the beach were brother Trayser, 14, and sister, Kaeli, 16, who are normally helping their parents run the 4,500 acre Black Angus cattle ranch in the high desert–a far cry from the splashing waves and sailboat races in the ocean before them.
“We love it here and it has been a great vacation,” Ginger said. “Back home, our cattle pay the taxes but we’d have to raise 5,000 head in order to break even. My husband also works as a Correctional Officer at a Prison and I work for a wood beam manufacturing company in Springerville.”
“If we don’t get monsoon rains in July and August to grow the nutrient-rich grass to feed the cattle, we have to sell off cattle and buy hay to feed the other Black Angus. We sometimes have 200 cattle but this year had to lower it to 100.”
The boys love living on the ranch, which gets snow and has natural springs and lakes. They have a zipline that’s one of the most popular attractions, drawing appreciative participants from 5 to 70. “They love to ride it down and drop into the lake,” Kaeli said. But their ranch is so isolated that it isn’t in any zipcode! The kids go over 20 miles to school each day. Most of the time, Kaeli has to drive several miles just to see her friends, “and I can’t stay out too late because of all the deer and elk that cross the road.”
The Wiltbanks have 6 horses to help them on their spread and round up the cattle at auction time. The spectacular area they call home has become the subject of Kaeli’s award-winning photos (we’ll show here in future editions). She won three blue ribbons in the Apache County Fair, including one of a magnificent sunset.
“I love the setting here and would like to become a professional photographer,” she said. “These ocean and cliff views are sensational. Maybe one day I’ll live around here, maybe up the coast a bit in Long Beach.”
But for now, the Wiltbanks have to head home to their cattle ranch and some of the most beautiful scenery in the US. The closest town to their ranch is Eagar, where Ginger has her post office box. This town lies below the White Mountains, home to the largest strand of Ponderosa Pines in the World.
Apache County is the largest County in the US–211 miles from the Utah border to just south of Alpine. Two-thirds of the population and over half of the land area is comprised of the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American Tribe. Like the Wiltbanks checked out our SoCal beaches, we’re going to have to go take a look at their fabulous land, chock-full of beauty and history.