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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

The Ghost Town of Oatman Arizona is well and truly alive

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Burros left behind by gold miners roam free around the town of Oatman in Arizona USA. Used by the miners in the 1800s to cart supplies and ore, they were abandoned when the mines shut down in 1942. Their descendants roam the countryside today. Visitors are asked to take care as you drive, as the burros will be wandering the streets freely. Some of the juvenile burros have signs around their necks asking you not to feed them. If you do feel that you need to feed the adults, local shops sell pellets that are perfect for their diets. The burros will greet you for miles before you even approach Oatman. They are plentiful and not shy at all. They will nudge you and even stick their head in your car window hoping for a snack.

author Helen is all smiles for the camera. Little does she know two burros are looking at her, one has its head inside the car window behind her.

No ghost town would be complete without a ghost story. In Oatman they tell of a white ghost burro called Pearl who roams the streets on dark nights looking for her pal, the missing prospector Howdy. A real life celebrity in the town is the orphaned donkey Walter. He is the star of two childrens' books "Walter finds a home" and "Walter's desert adventures." Walter can be found in the front yard of a home in the main street.

a grey donkey named Walter looks at the camera from behind a wooden paling fence in the front yard of a brick and stone home.

This is a town where you tread the same old wild west streets and wooden boardwalks that they did back in the day. In 1906 Oatman was formed, with more than 10,000 residents. The population in 2023 is just over 100. It was the ideal place to pick up mining supplies, come into town for a feed, drink and hospitality. There is even a replica old gold mine that you can enter, along with an old jail and undertakers' business. While not original, they make for good photos and memories of your visit.

a handwritten sign on an old piece of wood says Mine. This is above a metal door that stands at the entry to a reconstructed old wild west mine that people can venture into. a steel mesh door is open and the owner closes this when the tourists leave at the end of the day.

Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel after marrying in nearby Kingman. The room is available for viewing upstairs.

on the wall of a hotel room are black and white pictures of Carol Lombard and Clark Gable. The room has a small white metal framed double bed with a patchwork quilt. The room is decorated as it would have been when the two movie stars spent their honeymoon here.

This village hosts daily gunfights and friendly western characters. Donations are collected after the gunfight and donated to a children’s charity. Last year over $100,000 was raised for this worthy endeavor.

Three of the Oatman Outlaws get ready for a gun fight in the main street. a sign states they are donating money to Shriners Childrens Hospitals. A large American flag hangs from the verandah behind them. The three are dressed in western attire.

The January bed race through town attracts many spectators, as does the July Fourth egg fry and haunted house weekend in October.

an old metal single bed frame has 4 wheels on it. The sign says The Great Oatman bed races. Sat Jan Cash and Prices Teams beds provided

The sparse desert trees and cactus plants along the roadside as you enter town are decorated each year with Christmas baubles.

two roadside cactus are decorated with christmas balls. This is along the road on the way into Oatman.

The surrounding rocky scenery attracts hikers and side x sides looking for off road adventure.

in the main street of western town Oatman a side x side is being passed by two motor bike riders. Tourists walk along both sides of the road looking into curiosity shops.

There are over 40 merchants selling souvenirs, arts, crafts, jewelry and antiques. Anything from one of a kind handmade product to collectors rocks can be found here.

spread over a long trestle table are different types of mineral rocks. some are unpolished, straight from the ground, others are polished to a smooth and shiny surface. They are all colours, but mainly greys and blacks

The stores in town make for a laugh with names such as Fast Fanny’s, Jackass Junction, Saving Your Ass, The Classy Ass andTasha’s Wild Oats. At Judy’s Saloon, sit outside on the deck and watch the action go by as you sip a well-deserved cold beverage.

the sign states Fast Fanny's Place, turquoise silver jewelery, beneath a route 66 shield sign. The verandah is covered with hanging windchimes from both the top and the hitching post rail.

At the Oatman Hotel you can enjoy a meal sitting in a restaurant that has every single surface covered in dollar bills. There is no ceiling or wall space left to cover, so many of the bills cascade down like Christmas lights from the roof.

the walls and ceiling of a restaurant are covered in one dollar bills. A sign on the wall says Home of the World Famous Buffalo Burger

The town was named after Olive Ann Oatman (1837 - 1903). Olive and her sister Mary were part of a wagon train that was captured in Arizona in 1851 by the Apache. Held as slaves for a year, their chins were marked with blue cactus tattoos, identifying them as slaves. Mary later died and Olive was finally rescued in 1856. She lectured about her experiences after her release, one of the first female speakers in USA.

The Oatman Highway is a two-lane road that was one of the earliest alignments of Route 66. This eight-mile stretch is known as The Sidewinder. It has 191 curves, turns and switchbacks.

a curvy and windy road travels around the mountains in the desert

Bob Walton from Desert Wonder Tours was my guide on one of my many trips to Oatman. Bob has a family history in the area, dating back to the 1800s and introduced me to many of the places I hadn't been to previously when visiting Oatman. His stories and facts were very informative and entertaining. This is the benefit of hiring a local guide, you discover places and ideas that you never knew about before.

Located 130 miles (3 hours) from Las Vegas and 200 miles (4 hours) from the Grand Canyon, Oatman is worth a visit when in Arizona. Even if you find the town a bit kitschy and non-realistic, the views getting there make the journey worthwhile.

location of Oatman on map of USA

Happy Travels!

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