Burros at the Old West Town

Oatman is a small town in the Black Mountains in northwestern Arizona. It is located in a remote area, but the town has quite an illustrious history.

It started as a tent camp soon after two prospectors found $10 million worth of gold in nearby area in 1915. The town was named after Olive Oatman, an Illinois-native woman who was abducted by an Indian tribe, kept as a slave, traded to another Indian tribe, and later released near the site of the town of Oatman.

Later on, the Oatman Hotel in town became famous as the place where famous Holywood actors Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon after getting married in nearby Kingman, AZ. Supposedly Clark Gable enjoyed spending time playing poker with the miners in the town.

During the heyday of Route 66, the town became a tourist attraction because of its colorful history and its location that is right on the old Route 66. After the Interstate 40 was opened and it bypassed the Route 66 segment in Black Mountains area, it almost became a ghost town. Today it regained its popularity as a tourist attraction as there is more interests on the Historic Route 66. There is also a nearby gambling town in Nevada that runs tourist groups to visit Oatman on regular basis.

After following the road markers on a seemingly dead end road, we started a gradual climb in the Black Mountains area. And around a bend suddenly we saw a sign to welcome us to Oatman. As we reached the main street of the town, we noticed some interesting sights. Here was an old town that looked like what you see in old wild west movie settings — except this is a real deal. That we expected already from reading about Oatman before the trip. We also saw a couple of big coach buses with tourists. I was expecting to see tourists, but not in big coach buses like that. It was quite a contrast comparing the old town with its off the beaten path road and two modern coach buses there.

The most unexpected sight was seeing several burros (wild donkeys) roaming around the town. Apparently these burros were descendants of the burros used by gold prospectors back almost a century ago. They had been released and lived in the wild, and are actually protected by law. In Oatman, they were freely roaming the main street, and apparently they knew to look for tourists with food who were willing to feed them. The local gift shop sold a bag of carrots for $1 that you could buy and feed the burros with.

My brother and I stopped and walked around the area for a little bit before continuing our journey. On some days, there were reenactment of wild west gun fight on the main street, but there was nothing going on when we were there.

The photo below was taken outside a curio shop off the main street of Oatman. You can see a couple of local shopkeepers with the burros in front of their shop.

Shopkeepers and the burros

Off the Beaten Path

After a few hours traveling on the Interstate highway from Los Angeles, we reached Needles, CA, the last exit on I-40 east bound before entering Arizona. Most people would pass this exit unless they need to stop for fuel at the gas station nearby. We exited the Interstate highway here because we wanted to take an alternate, ‘scenic route,’ the old Route 66 between Needles and Kingman, AZ.

We decided to explore this segment of Route 66 because it’s among the best representation of old, historic route that ended up getting bypassed and replaced by the modern Interstate Highway. The old route goes through a winding road on the Black Mountains area. It’s scenic, but not the fastest way. The Interstate highway cuts through another part of the mountainous region and provide a shorter and faster route for those who need to speed up to get through the area.

Another reason why this old route was interesting to us is because it passes two points of interests, a ghost town called Oatman, and a restored rest stop called Cool Springs. Again, more historical look at what Route 66 looked like back in its heyday.

After we passed the town of Needles and entered into the state of Arizona, we followed the road sign to Oatman. Gradually we went from driving on a busy four-lane highway to a smaller two-lane road that led towards the mountain. It felt like we’re alone in the middle of nowhere and heading to a dead end, until we saw a sign indicating we’re on the historic stretch of Route 66 and we’re only few miles away from Oatman.

The photo below was taken as we’re getting closer to Oatman. You can see that the road is not much traveled anymore, and there is the historic Route 66 marker.

Off the beaten path