We have been going non-stop for the last several months and the next several show no signs of being any different. So, when the mother-in-law offered up a couple free nights in Laughlin, Nevada I jumped on it. It is only a three and a half hour (my driving speed) drive from Phoenix and I needed some down time. On our way up to Laughlin we took a short detour to Oatman, Arizona.
Oatman was founded in 1906 and by the 1930’s was one of the largest gold producers in Arizona. But in 1942 all the mines were officially closed, considered nonessential to the war effort. The once populace city of 10,000 quickly dwindled to 60 by 1950. The city has grown slightly since the 50’s, climbing back up to 135 according to the 2010 census.
Getting to Oatman is an adventure in itself. The city is located 28 miles southwest of Kingman. A portion of the trip runs along the original Route 66. The last 8 miles are white knucklers. Eight miles of twisty, curvy, hairpin turns with almost no shoulder and even less guard rails going up the mountain, down the mountain and yet again up and down the mountain. Posted speed limits range from 10-20 mph. My actual speed ranged from 15-35 miles an hour. Vehicles over 40 feet in length are prohibited on the road. For a city born and raised girl, it was scary.
I found it rather amusing that the first cross street in Oatman is named Snob Hill Road. We paid $2 to park our car in exchange for a $2 coupon for Mother’s Gift Shop. I am using the words gift shop rather loosely in this case. There are over 40 gift/antique shops in the block or two that makes up the Oatman downtown. With names like Jackass Junction, The Bucktooth Burro, Fast Fanny’s Place, and New Digg’ns I wasn’t expecting high quality goods. Many of the shops sell homemade items along with your typical touristy items and heavily rely on Route 66 nostalgia. Most of the shops also sell burro food.
Which leads me to the reason we stopped in Oatman.
Wild burros freely roam the streets. Burros were initially brought to Oatman by prospectors that used them to work inside and outside of the mines. When the mines closed up the burros were released into the wild. The burros currently roaming the streets of Oatman are descendants of those original burros.
These burros ARE wild. They do BITE. They do KICK. They do expect you to FEED them. The are AGGRESSIVE!
The husband bought a bag of carrots for us to feed to the burros and had them in his camera bag. A very impatient donkey decided he was just going to take the entire camera bag. He grabbed ahold of the bag and tried to walk away with it! Another donkey attempted the same trick with my purse, I had no food in my purse. For most of the hour that we were there the husband looked like the pied piper of burros, everywhere he moved they moved with him. We did find out on our way out-of-town that carrots are greatly discouraged. They are making the burros fat and the Bureau of Land Management is threatening to remove them. So if you go, stick with the burro food.
I love animals and I like to pet and feed animals, but it usually scares me silly to do so.
Word of mouth about the burros is probably what brings most people to the town. Burros aside it was a very enjoyable detour. An authentic old west town, it is today as it was in its heyday, with boardwalks and many of the building standing as they were built. Many of the town’s residents dress in standard old west fashion. There are even staged gun fights on the weekend.
We were lucky enough to catch a gunfight during our visit. Audience participation is a must. This is how they block the traffic on the street. The performance is amateur, but very entertaining. The performers are volunteers and they do it because they love it. At the end of the “fight” they do pass around their hats, literally, and accept donations, all of which are donated to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children. This year alone they have donated over $60,000!
Oatman is not a destination trip. However, if you get there late and want to stay over, the Oatman Hotel is still operational.
Photo Credit: Coldshot Photography