Mountain News Roundup: When all that remains of a Bonanza is a name

Allan Best
Special to the Daily

BONANZA, Colo. — When does a town cease to be a town? That’s been the question this year for Bonanza, a place that for most of its existence has failed to live up to its name.

It’s located in south-central Colorado, 13 miles of gravel road from the nearest highway, post office or business. This is in the forested fringe of the northern San Luis Valley, a broad triangle of high desert sandwiched by 14,000- and 13,000-foot peaks.

The town was launched as a formal municipality in 1881. This was during Colorado’s mining boom. Bonanza had seven dance halls, four smelters, two hotels and one newspaper along with 1,000 residents.

Mining petered out and a fire in 1937 destroyed much of what remained. In the early 1970s, a commune was formed near Bonanza, but it was abandoned.

Forty-three Colorado towns have been formally abolished in the last decade. Most of them were merely pieces of paper, and 30 of them were in Summit County, eliminated in one simple action in 2005.

As the 21st century arrived, only a handful of people remained.

“It’s more like a town inhabited by hermits, which would seem oxymoronic, yet rumor has it — and personal experience has borne this out — that these people do not socialize with one another,” wrote non-resident property owner Antonya Nelson in a 2010 essay in the New York Times. She disguised the town with the name “Eureka.”

“Feuding might be too strong a word for what they do, but there are only 12 of them (officially), and you never see two together. Ever. For all I know, it’s one guy with a lot of costumes.”

Bonanza now has just one resident, as reporters for The Denver Post, Al Jazeera and other media organizations have discovered on journeys this year to Bonanza. The others died or left.

The reporter for Al Jazeera apparently got desperate for an interview. “To someone standing by a car at the crossroads, honking the horn in a futile hope of rousing any sign of life, Bonanza can feel like the setting of a Stephen King novel,” wrote correspondent Greg Campbell.

Since Bonanza is in Saguache County, the commissioners last year petitioned to have the town disincorporated. In January, the Colorado secretary of state began proceedings to determine whether Bonanza met legal requirements. State law says that an incorporated town must have an elected or at least appointed board and hold regular meetings.

It’s not clear any of that has happened in Bonanza in the last five years. In fact, the former mayor didn’t even live in the town. The last town election was in the 1990s.

Ben Gibbons, the county attorney, said he expects a ruling sometime early this month.

Some nearby residents have opposed the disincorporation, but Gibbons says the county commissioners are unclear in their reasoning.

The opinion that probably should matter most is that of Bonanza’s only full-time resident, Mark Perkovich. He moved from Denver to Bonanza 20 years ago simply because of his desire for isolation. “I wanted to be at the end of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere,” he told The Denver Post in March.

Perkovich sees no real change if Bonanza loses its status as a town. Saguache County already maintains the roads, and there is no water or sewer service, no post office or police force. All it has is a name, and that really won’t go away.

Combing through state records, Colorado Public Radio earlier this year found that 43 towns have formally been abolished in the last decade. Most of them were merely pieces of paper, and 30 of them were in Summit County, eliminated in one simple action in 2005.

Coal remains, but is it competitive?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Steamboat Springs calls itself “Ski Town USA,” and it has had skiing events for about a century. But the largest property taxpayer in Routt County and second-largest employer is a coal mine.

The Twentymile Mine, which is located 15 miles from Steamboat Springs, produces a third of the coal mined in Colorado, and it is burned in one local power plant and more in the Denver-Boulder area. It is also shipped to Texas, Hawaii and Europe.

But what is the future of that coal mine? Jobs have been lost. They pay double the average Routt County wage, reports the Craig Daily Press, citing the Yampa Valley Data Partners. One mining operation is to end in 2016, although exploratory work has been done on a new seam.

“There is no shortage of accessible coal for Twentymile Coal Co.,” insists the Daily Press.

Paul Bonnifield, a historian and retired railroad employee, declares that the full story is not being told. In letters published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, he contends that the mine is “running out of coal and several miners and railroaders better be looking at their future.”

In an interview with Mountain Town News, Bonnifield clarified that it’s not just a matter of coal seams. Rather, it’s a question of whether the coal can be mined profitably, given the considerable cost of hauling the coal and competing against the giant conveyor belt of trains from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana.

Elsewhere in Colorado’s mountains, a coal mine near Paonia, west of Aspen, has laid off 150 employees. The Bowie mine lost its contract to supply low-sulphur coal to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Vail Resort’s diversity at the top to increase

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — So how does Vail Resorts stack up in top-echelon diversity? In the board room, according to the corporation’s website, seven of the eight have male names. The executive team also includes Kirsten Lynch, who is the chief marketing officer and executive vice president.

Vail’s top-rung management will get more diverse next August when Blaise Carrig steps down as president of the company’s mountain division. He will be replaced by Patricia Campbell, currently executive vice president and chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Resort.

Replacing Campbell at Breckenridge will be John Buhler, current COO at Keystone, while Mike Goar will leave Canyons, the Utah resort, to direct operations at Keystone.

Aspen real estate can go down only so far

ASPEN — Some purchasers of high-end real estate in Aspen have taken to low-down development. When remodeling old homes, they have clawed out enough space for not just your ordinary basement, but actually two levels of the subterranean.

This dirt-moving and stabilization of 40-foot-deep excavations has distressed enough neighbors that the Aspen City Council has taken action. The council, reports the Aspen Daily News, has adopted a policy limiting homes to just one underground level of no more than 15 feet.

Chris Bendon, the community development director, points out that this is new territory for Aspen, so refinements may be needed to the policy.

Computing commuting costs across Teton Range

JACKSON, Wyo. — The largest suburbs to Jackson are in a different state, Idaho.

The Idaho towns of Victor and Driggs are home to a large number of people who commute daily across Teton Pass to higher-paying jobs in Jackson Hole. A report compiled by housing consultant Melanie Rees found that, in 53 percent of cases, at least one family member in Idaho’s Teton County commuted.

Real estate is cheaper in Idaho than it is in Wyoming. But what is the cost of all that driving. It’s more than just the gas you pay. Using the Internal Revenue Service’s standard deduction of 56 cents a mile, Reese calculated an annual cost of about $1,000 per commuter.

“They don’t consider wear and tear on the cars and the cost of new tires,” says Rees.

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