Situated at elevation 2,700 feet and on the 38th parallel, the old Gold Rush town of Oatman in Arizona is on the original, now defunct, Route 66. Started in 1906 as a tent camp, its mines had produced 1.8 million ounces (worth about $60 million) of gold by 1931. The boom was over by the mid-1930s, and in 1942 the few remaining mines closed after being declared nonessential to the war effort.
Now this historic mining town is a sort of "living ghost town," with about 100 permanent residents. A mine shaft opening can be entered at no cost, and shootouts on main street are scheduled daily.
But most people come here to see the burros.
Though it is wise to keep a safe distance from them because they are wild and will sometimes bite and kick, that is almost impossible to do. Especially the babies, which are too, too cute and just beg to be petted. You can buy inexpensive feed for the adult burros—just watch that they don’t come after you for more and take a nip out of your shirt or purse by mistake—but you’re reminded by a note attached to their foreheads not to feed the babies. They are still nursing and regular food is detrimental to their health.
Burros were brought to the area by early prospectors. They were used inside mines for hauling rock and ore, and outside for hauling water and supplies. Eventually, when the mines closed, they were released into the surrounding hills.
Oatman Hotel 181 Main St., (928) 768-4408. Hollywood movie stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard famously honeymooned here in 1939. You can view their upstairs honeymoon suite for a small fee. The hotel dates back to 1902. It survived a bad fire in 1920 and is now the oldest two-story building in Arizona's Mohave County and is on the Registrar of National Historic Places. The hotel looks pretty much like it did when the miners were here and is rumored to be haunted by Oatie the ghost. Downstairs is a bar and cafe that are memorable for the dollar bills tacked like three-dimensional wallpaper to the wall, a tradition that started with the miners back when 5 cents bought a beer. They would write their name on a dollar bill and tack it to the wall to start a tab. Ask to borrow a staple gun and add your own signed dollar. The menu is simple American food. But the $6 cocktail menu offers temptingly named drinks: Oatman Punch, Blushing Burro, Pink Lizard, Snake Bite, and Donkey Pee, which is made with Parrot Bay coconut rum, sour mix, and club soda, and many swear is quite tasty.
Oatman, Arizona, is 28 miles southeast of Laughlin, Nevada. Getting there takes you along Route 66 through the scenic Black Mountains. They are dotted with cholla plants and tumbleweeds, some of which bear the wind-blown remnants of decorations bestowed upon them by schoolchildren at Christmases past.
More information about Oatman, Arizona.
Things to do in nearby Laughlin, Nevada.
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images ©2015 Carole Terwilliger Meyers