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On the road in Oatman: A lively ghost town

One in a herd of wild burros just outside of Oatman, Ariz.
Sharon Gilbert

Oatman, Ariz. is a living “ghost town” sitting on Route 66 between Needles, Calif. and Kingman, Ariz. In its heyday, the town was home to one of the largest gold mining operations in Arizona. In today’s dollars, the value of the gold mined in Oatman is $2,600,000,000.

During World War II, the United States government shut down the remaining mines in the area. The miners were pulled from Oatman to mine metals more precious to the war effort in other parts of the country.

In 1995 the Goldroad mine was reopened but shut down again in 1998 due to low gold prices. At that time, they were taking about 40,000 ounces out annually.

Today, Oatman’s biggest attraction is the burros. Wild burros roam freely throughout the town and in the hills nearby. The burros are decendents of those freed by early prospectors. They now number in the hundreds, or possibly even thousands.

On any given day, a dozen or more burros will mingle with tourists. Although friendly, everyone should remember they are wild animals and NEVER stand behind them unless you want a good kick in the shin.

In the spring, several baby burros will stroll around to the oohhs and aahhs of visitors. Burro food and carrots are sold at almost every store but cannot be given to the babies.

Oatman’s other attractions include daily gun fights, classic car shows, Harley poker runs and much more. Shops in town sell souvenirs as well as jewelry made by locals and Native Americans, clothing and home décor.

Oatman receives more than 500,000 visitors a year. The town is open 365 days a year but many shops close on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Other times, such as this week when the Laughlin River Run is in progress, the town will be overflowing with bikers and other tourists.

A Baby Burro
A Baby Burro Sharon Gilbert

A Baby Burro

A baby burro is called a "foal," not a "burrito." This one, despite being very young, had already learned that tourists come with good things to eat. However, the babies should never be given carrots.

Oatman Hotel
Oatman Hotel Sharon Gilbert

Oatman Hotel

The Oatman Hotel was built in 1904. It is best known as one of the places Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon. The honeymoon suite remains one of the biggest attractions in Oatman.

On Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman
On Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman Sharon Gilbert

On Route 66 between Oatman and Kingman

The Mother Road, Route 66, is well preserved between Oatman and Kingman. The drive is beautiful, especially in the fall and spring. It is also a very desolate area with no amenities or cell phone service. The temperature can reach 120 degrees in the summer and there can be flash floods during monsoon season, which starts around July.

Burros Wandering in the Road
Burros Wandering in the Road Sharon Gilbert

Burros Wandering in the Road

Burros wander freely around town. They are not shy about walking up to anyone who looks like they have something they want to eat. They can also be seen sticking their heads in car windows looking for food.

The Sassy Camaro
The Sassy Camaro Sharon Gilbert

The Sassy Camaro

Oatman is a popular destination for classic car rendezvous and poker runs. A street full of Harley's is a common sight as are street rods, Model Ts and everything in between. This beauty was not part of a show or event, but rather a showoff.

One of the Goldmines
One of the Goldmines Sharon Gilbert

One of the Goldmines

As one heads from Oatman to Kingman on Route 66, remnants of the area's mining history are all around. In this photo you can see that time and weather have not removed the scaring.

The Glory Hole
The Glory Hole Sharon Gilbert

The Glory Hole

This old building is currently up for sale. In decades past it has served as the post office, a bank and a bus stop. The town has a "new" post office up the street but it has been quite some time since it has had a bank or a bus stop.

More Burros
More Burros Sharon Gilbert

More Burros

These are a few more of the burros that wander the area looking for nice tourists to feed them. However, there is an area just off of the main street where the burros can go for shelter, water and feed.

Ed's Camp and Kactus Kafes
Ed's Camp and Kactus Kafes Sharon Gilbert

Ed's Camp and Kactus Kafes

This place may not have been a backdrop for the "Grapes of Wrath" but it should have been. It sits on Route 66 about halfway between Oatman and Kingman. It just says "Joads" all over it.

A White Burro
A White Burro Sharon Gilbert

A White Burro

This was one in a herd of wild white burros encountered en route to Oatman. They were taking advantage of all of the green grass in the area after a rainy spring.