Otto Mears Tollroad and Bonanza

Bonanza Mining District & Otto Mears Tollroad Brief History

Bonanza has a rich history of mining beginning in 1880 and lasting until the 1930’s.

Many mining structures still remain in the hills.

Rich silver ore was discovered in the mountains north of Saguache and west of Villa Grove in 1880, and the town of Bonanza sprang up that fall. The name comes from the optimistically named Bonanza mine; one of the prospectors told his friends, “It’s a Bonanza, boys!” and the name stuck.

Bonanza boomed between 1880 and 1888. Silver, copper, lead and zinc were found and 1,500 mining claims came into existence.

As the price of silver fell Bonanza lost its importance. In 1937 a fire wiped out the town of Bonanza and not many structures in the town were rebuilt.

The remains of the Cocomongo Mill are still visible.

Otto Mears Tollroad

Otto Mears participated in the mining boom by constructing wagon roads, one of which was the Otto Mears Toll Road, which runs between Bonanza and the old townsite of Shirley at the eastern end of Marshall Pass above Mears Junction.

Otto Mears Tollroad today

A gate was placed at each end of the road and a Toll of 10 cents was charged to travel the road. The road wound its way up through Bonanza, over the hill to Shirley, and on to Poncha Pass.

Otto Mears Tollroad today

The railroad siding of Shirley became an important link for the Bonanza Mining District in the 1920’s when a 7 1/2-mile aerial tramway was constructed over the mountains from Bonanza to Shirley. At the time, it was one of the longest aerial trams in the world and the only one that had a change in direction within the route.

Otto Mears Tollroad today

Silver, lead, zinc, and copper concentrates were transported by the tram from the Rawley Mine and Mill near Bonanza to the railroad siding in Shirley. Concentrates were then shipped by the Denver and Rio Grande Western narrow gauge railroad line in Shirley to smelters in Salida, Leadville, and even Salt Lake City via Marshall Pass.

View of Silvercreek from the Otto Mears Tollroad

When the Rawley Mine and Mill closed in 1930, the tramway ceased to operate. Today, there is little evidence of the town of Shirley except for the railroad grade. South of the townsite, concrete footings that supported the tramway, and a portion of the route where the tramway passed through the forest are still visible.









Otto Mears Tollroad today

Mountain Passes