Eagle County remembers Rodney Davis, the man who went missing in Mexico late October

After disappearing in Mexico, Davis' body was found last week outside of Loreto

Carolyn Paletta
Vail Daily
Davis fishes on Lake Powell with his springer spaniel, Smokey.
Cynthia Wizeman/Courtesy photo

EAGLE COUNTY — The body of Rodney Davis, an Eagle County local who went missing in Mexico on Oct. 25, was found outside of Loreto, Mexico, last week and was positively identified Friday, Nov. 11, based on medical records. A confirmed DNA match is pending. Local police in the area have arrested multiple suspects believed to be involved in Davis’ death on charges of aggravated kidnapping and homicide.

Davis was reported missing around 48 hours after departing from his campground at Juncalito Beach on the Baja Peninsula, where he has spent the last 10 winters with a group of retirees. Davis was driving his truck toward the nearby city of Loreto for supplies, accompanied by his dog, Rio, and never returned to the campsite.

Rio has not been found. The family is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who finds the springer spaniel and returns her to the Baja Safe Humane Society.

A criminal investigation involving the FBI and the local police force is ongoing and further details about the circumstances of Davis’ death have not been released.

In the aftermath, family members and friends of Davis are taking this time to celebrate the rich life that he led in the valley, full of adventure, outdoor recreation and widespread community bonds. 

A memorial service will be held at Rancho del Rio resort on May 7, 2023, on what would have been Davis’ 74th birthday.

Living for the moment

Rodney Davis, known to most as Rod, found his greatest joy and solace in nature. Born and raised in Westchester, Pennsylvania, Davis learned how to hunt and fish with his father at a young age and was always drawn to outdoor recreation. After completing a degree in business at Bucknell University, he and his first wife, Anne, packed up and headed out west to create a life in the mountains.

Davis arrived in Vail in the summer of 1973 and found a lifelong home in the valley. He sought out work that enabled him to be outside as much as possible, spending winters on the mountain as a ski patroller, summers as a river rafting guide for Timberline Tours, and shoulder seasons doing construction and remodeling for clients up and down the valley.

Meryl Jacobs, Davis’ younger sister, followed him out to the valley after college and said that they all lived the true mountain lifestyle together, working multiple jobs to fuel endless wilderness adventures and experiences. Bow hunting for elk was a particular favorite hobby of Davis, and Jacobs said he was considered to be one of the most adept bow hunters in the area.

“He’s just a through and through outdoorsman,” Jacobs said. “He loved skiing, he loved hiking, he loved fishing, he loved backpacking — anything outdoors he was amazing at and just loved it.”

Jacobs said that early on in Davis’ time in Vail, the tragic death of two close friends solidified his philosophy to live for the moment, an intention that he embodied for the rest of his life.

“It was like a turning point in his life where he realized: live for the day, live for the moment. I think he was already leaning that way, but this just pushed him right over to that sort of outlook,” Jacobs said. “He wasn’t tied to anything. He did what he wanted to do every single day.”

Charlie Ebel, a close friend of Davis for over three decades, said that even at 73 years old, Davis continued to seize each and every day, always active and always involved in one project or another.

“Rod woke up in the morning, and it was like, ‘What are we going to do today?’” Ebel said. “Even as he got older, even though he wasn’t moving around so well before he had the knee surgeries and stuff, it was always something to do: we’re going fishing, we’re going into town, we’re driving over to the Pacific Coast to look for a new place to launch the boat. There was always something going on. It was inspiring.”

Davis met his second wife, Dagmar Huber, when they were both working at Timberline Tours. On their first date, he fittingly took her elk hunting with him, and she saw how powerful the experience of hunting and being in nature was for him.

“I was just really struck by this look of serenity and peace, and I was just like, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a look like that on anybody’s face before,’” Huber said. “Some people get really involved in all these activities to show off or to enhance their egos or whatever that is. It’s about them. But I never really got that with Rod. It wasn’t about his ego. It was about a true desire to enjoy the outdoors and to connect with people.”

“And to take people with him,” Ebel added. “Rod was just the guy who wanted you to come with him. That’s how I always felt about him.”

A mountain renaissance man

Friends described Davis as the quintessential renaissance man, able to build, repair, and create anything with his own two hands and meticulous about doing things the right way. 

Davis and Huber founded R&D Outfitters together in the late 1980s and spent years managing Piney River Ranch and Black Mountain Ranch in McCoy, where Davis updated infrastructure and worked as a fishing and horseback guide.

Animals were one of Davis’ greatest loves, and he always had a dog or two by his side, with all but the first being his favorite breed: springer spaniels. Huber said that Davis often had a grumpy exterior — friends commonly referred to him as a curmudgeon — but it coated a soft heart, and nowhere was that more apparent than when he was tending to the animals in his care.

A memory that stood out to Huber was from their time at Piney River Ranch, when she and Davis built a new corral and transferred the animals over from the old one.

“There are only a couple of times I’ve seen Rod cry, but one of the times was when we let all the horses and mules into the new corral,” Huber said. “He was trying to be all macho and he just turned into a puddle because the horses were just so happy. It meant so much to him to get them out of that muck.”

In recent years, Davis spent the warmer months living and working at the Rancho del Rio resort at the headwaters of the Colorado River while migrating to Mexico for the winter. Laura Quinn, Davis’ landlord at Rancho del Rio, said that he was a steadying force on the grounds and someone who could be relied on to undertake any project asked of him, even remodeling 14 cabins in the span of six weeks.

“He was just somebody we all looked up to, trusted his opinion, respected him,” Quinn said. “He was like this little magic carpenter guy who would just come in and knew how to do everything — I mean, everything — and we worshiped him.”

Beyond being good with hands, Davis also read constantly, and though he was not outspoken about his ideas, he was always ready to engage in intellectual conversation over a whiskey or a campfire.

“He was very smart, so smart,” Jacobs said. “I mean, I could look to him for an answer on anything. He was the go-to guy.”

During his time at Rancho del Rio, Davis continued working for Timberline Tours and was responsible for training young, up-and-coming guides on the water. Quinn said that despite his tough exterior, Davis found a connection with people young and old, rich and poor, and used his position to pass on what he had learned about living in and respecting nature.

“Rod really took seriously his role as a mentor, not just on the river, but in life and work in general,” Quinn said. “He was the person who was training 20-year-olds on the river to be decent humans, to be good stewards of the outdoors. He was training the next generation of river people.”

Throughout a lifetime seeking experiences in nature — whether hunting, rafting, fishing, skiing, horseback riding or otherwise — Davis made close friendships throughout the valley and around the world, and has left a mark on countless lives. Anyone interested in sharing a story or memory of Rodney Davis can email to include in the digital copy of this article.

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