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Last year, we embarked on a back road adventure in Arizona, a state we had never explored before. We hiked, camped, and explored Grand Canyon National Park, swam in the icy waters of Lake Havasu and meandered along historic route 66. One of our favorite discoveries along route 66 was the kitschy little town of Oatman, Arizona. Have you heard of it?
My dad, who lived in Arizona at the time, has been mentioning Oatman for years, and what always stuck in my head was the fact that feral burros roam the streets, begging the tourists for food. The burros of Oatman are descendants of the original beasts of burden that worked the gold mines during Oatman’s heyday, more than 100 years ago.
I’m a huge animal lover, so when we planned our Arizona trip over the winter, I put Oatman right at the top of my list.
A Brief History of Oatman, Arizona
Oatman was sparsely settled starting in 1863 when a small bit of gold was discovered in the surrounding Black Mountains. Not much came of the discovery until two lucky prospectors struck it rich in 1915, with a 10 million dollar claim. The town grew rapidly after that, and in the course of a single year, the tiny tent village became a town of 3,500 people.
Oatman certainly prospered during a decade-long gold rush, but when the mines dried up, so did everything else. The town’s biggest mine closed in 1924, and by the early 1960s, the whole area was all but abandoned.
A revitalized interest in historic route 66 saved Oatman from demise, and while it may not be thriving, it’s got a lot to offer visitors looking for that kitschy slice of Americana.
Things to Do in Oatman, AZ
The Oatman of today is home to just 128 people and a handful of burros, but tourists have fallen in love with this Arizona ghost town. It’s quite inconveniently located on historic Route 66, but the road is a destination in its own right, and perfect for back road ramblers like us.
Main Street through Oatman, AZ is tiny, with just a handful of junk stores, restaurants, and gift shops that are entirely dependent on tourist dollars. An afternoon is all you’ll need to explore thoroughly, but if you have time, I recommend meandering along the back roads, which will give you a glimpse of the hardscrabble life that existed here in years past.
But first, park your car on the street, and take a tour of an iconic Arizona ghost town that refuses to die. Here’s the plan for a perfect day in Oatman, Arizona:
Feed the Oatman burros. You can buy “burro chow” at just about any shop. The burros know the drill and will happily beg for food. Some are a bit too bold, though, so be careful. They’ll chase you down if they know you’ve got food in your pocket.
Important: Please do not feed the burros carrots! The Oatman burros have consumed too many carrots, which aren’t good for them. The carrots have made them overweight and aggressive, and they are showing signs of poor health. The photo below was taken many years ago when we didn’t know any better. Live and learn!
Eat at the famous Oatman Hotel. Or at least go in and have a look around. Inside the restaurant, every square inch of wall and ceiling space is covered with dollar bills. I didn’t get a good picture, but it’s really incredible. This is the only two-story historic adobe building in Mohave County. While you can no longer spend the night in the historic hotel, it’s still worth visiting. You can also see the honeymoon suite of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard while you’re there. They married in 1939, and their suite of rooms is still a major attraction.
Indulge in Ice Cream at the Olive Oatman Ice Cream Parlor. Just make sure you keep your cones away from the four-legged scavengers. Seriously, those burros will steal your cone in a heartbeat!
Watch the gunslingers at noon. Traffic is stopped every day for this grand event — a wild west shootout, just like in the movies.
Buy some prickly pear gummy candy at the Oatman Candy Shoppe. It’s pricey, but it makes a great gift for your house sitter back home.
Fry eggs on the sidewalk. But only if you visit on the 4th of July.
More Fun on Historic Route 66
Oatman is just one of the fun places to explore on historic route 66 in Arizona. If you just can’t stop back road adventuring, here are some more places to check out:
- The Route 66 Museum in Kingman, Arizona – Learn about the fascinating history of the “Mother Road” at this cool museum. Open daily from 9-5.
- Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is an awesome college town with a lot going on — good restaurants, shopping, and lodging.
- Rock Art Ranch. Located in Joseph City, this is a privately owned canyon and ranch with one of the most extensive petroglyph collections in the whole world.
It’s definitely one of our favorite back road adventures. So far, it’s one of our favorite back-road adventures. If you’re looking for more Arizona fun, read these posts:
And if you’re looking for resources to help plan your adventure, these will be incredibly helpful (click on the photo for more information):
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