The next time you’re out getting your kicks on historic Route 66 in Arizona, experience a bit of America’s golden past at the same time by stopping in the ghost town of Oatman. Born as a tent camp for gold miners in 1906, the town boomed, then busted in the 1940s, and has since come alive again. Over half a million tourists visit Oatman each year, greeted by friendly resident burros looking for a snack! Although there are gift shops, staged gunfights, and costumed entertainers strolling the streets, Oatman takes pride in keeping the flavor of the town as authentic as possible. You won’t find newly renovated buildings here—Oatman’s historic buildings are definitely from a bygone era.
Bring carrots if you want a photo op with the unofficial long-eared city ambassadors! The friendly burros that freely roam the streets of Oatman are directly descended from the pack animals brought in by the original gold miners. When the mines closed permanently and the burros were no longer needed, they were set loose. The babies are the cutest, but it’s the adults that are looking for tasty handouts. The burros are considered wild because they come and go as they please, and they do bite and kick, but if you’ve got food, you’ve got a friend for life! While driving in or out of town, you may see herds of truly wild burros that don’t wander anywhere near humans.
After feeding the four-legged panhandlers, stroll down the street and imagine a time when 3,500 miners called Oatman home— and the nearby mines were producing over $13 million in gold. Peek inside the many historic buildings. Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned at the Oatman Hotel on March 18, 1939. Built in 1902, this hotel is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mojave County. It’s rumored that Gable returned here often to play poker with the local miners and enjoy the solitude of the desert.
As you stroll, watch for signs and painted murals around town. One particular interesting sign shares the history of the Oatman name. It was originally named Vivian, after the Vivian Mining Company. It was later renamed Oatman in honor of Olive Oatman, a woman kidnapped by Indians in the 1850s, and released five years later for a ransom of one horse, four blankets, and some beads. Signs also tell you that the town appeared in several movies such as How The West Was Won, Foxfire and Edge of Eternity.
Oatman is easy to reach from bigger cities— 25 miles southwest of Kingman, Arizona and 30 miles southeast of Laughlin, Nevada— but the surrounding mountain scenery makes it feel like you’re way out in the hills. If you’re looking for a fun and interesting stop along Route 66, the gold mining ghost town of Oatman is it!
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com