The Ghost Town of Oatman Arizona is well and truly alive
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.
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.
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.
Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel after marrying in nearby Kingman. The room is available for viewing upstairs.
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.
The January bed race through town attracts many spectators, as does the July Fourth egg fry and haunted house weekend in October.
The sparse desert trees and cactus plants along the roadside as you enter town are decorated each year with Christmas baubles.
The surrounding rocky scenery attracts hikers and side x sides looking for off road adventure.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.