Fair warning for those of you who either don’t like hoof stock or who have a fear of long ears and teeth, this report has more pictures of burros than humans, architecture, and plants combined. However, there is a sort of hidden Mickey (if you tilt your head and squint a little) to make up for it all.
Although it started as a mining town, for the greater part of its lifespan Oatman has been a tourist trap…er…destination.
Admittedly it’s more fake than real, but we do still enjoy spending an afternoon here.
I think it has some beauty in its own harsh way.
It’s cheesy, and a bit tawdry with the usual souvenir stores selling the same tacky junk as all the others (shot glasses, tee shirts with “funny” sayings, household items with Harley Davidson logos, fake street signs with “funny” sayings and Ford logos), but the redeeming features are an interesting story behind the town name, some actual old buildings that are still in use, some connections to Hollywood and its Golden Era stars, hand-dipped ice cream on freshly made waffle cones, and wild burros.
The town’s name comes from this lady:
Olive Oatman was a young girl from Illinois who was kidnapped by some local Indians, and was forced to work as a slave. She was traded to another tribe (the Mohave) who adopted her as a daughter and had her face tattooed as was the tribes’ custom. She was ransomed back to the whites and released in 1855 near the current site of the town.
Quite a start for the dusty gold-mining tent city.
Unfortunately, most of the gold was gone by the 1920’s, and in 1941 all gold mining in the US ceased as unnecessary to the war effort (another gold mining town that died because of this was Bodie California, which we visited a few years ago, it’s a real ghost town and still in amazing condition, you can read about it here: https://falcioni.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/nothing-endures-but-change-a-visit-to-bodie-california/).
With the mines closed, Oatman did still have one thing going for it, Route 66 wound its way through the middle of town on its way from Kingman to the banks of the Colorado.
So some of the miners stuck around to mine the pockets of travelers. The hotel, which was built in 1902 and spared in the 1921 fire, stayed open and hosted some interesting guests including Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in 1939. Clark really loved the area, and would come back occasionally to spend an afternoon in the darkened bar playing poker and drinking with the miners.
They also filmed some movies here, like this one:
In 1953 a new road was built that bypassed Oatman, and by the 1960’s the place was all but abandoned.
Fortunately, people soon waxed nostalgic about the old Mother Road, so cars and motorcycles started traveling through town once again. Of course where there’s tourists, there have to be tourist traps, so the place re-invented itself as a cheesy example of the typical American Ghost Town, complete with a shootout at noon daily (donations accepted).
I know by now you’re wondering, “What the heck does any of this have to do with burros?”
Well, they were used in mining to pull the ore carts, and when the mining shut down, there was no Old Burro Home around so they were simply set free.
Fortunately burros are resourceful creatures whose natural habitat is usually something similar to the dry desert terrain around Oatman, so they thrived. When people started exploring the area again in the 1970’s, the burros were there waiting, and happy to accept carrots or other treats from passers-by. Being smart little creatures, they know that wherever humans are, food is, so they tend to congregate in Oatman.
Although there’s signs up everywhere about how these are wild creatures and can be dangerous, the animals are very calm and friendly for the most part. That doesn’t mean I’d let a Pomeranian run around without a leash, or a 2-year old try to eat carrots in the stroller while you’re there. Still, they’re fun, do silly things, and generally make the trip to Oatman even more pleasant (if you like donkeys).
Our property is also on Route 66, we’re a short 20 minute drive on the old road, or a longer wander on the ATV’s or dirt bikes via trails to get there. Besides Oatman, there are also other actual ghost towns in the area that we’re really looking forward to exploring after we retire.
We had a really fun day exploring our “new home turf”, in fact, the best days on this trip seemed to be the ones that involved animals.