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Oatman (Arizona, USA)

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Oatman began as a mining town in 1915 when miners struck gold. It is an authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. Spend a night at the Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, and request the room where Clark Gable stayed!

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      15.11.2007 12:41
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      Watch out for the burros.

      ***Background***

      When we were planning our travels around Arizona, we hadn't thought about the old Route 66 and had mapped out a route that by-passed it, but whilst in Kingman, which is also known as the heart of Route 66, we found a leaflet for a town along it for a historic ghost town and after our visit to Rhyolite, near Death Valley, we couldn't resist taking a detour to see what exactly was there.

      Following this historic road from Kingman we saw quite a few strange things including a row of mailboxes apparently in the middle of nowhere and a sign telling us if we wanted to get a mining permit in the area to 'See Don'. This was also where we saw lots of lizards running around along the small and twisty roads and also a real live young chaparral cock, AKA the road runner, which was much smaller and cuter than the cartoon counterpart, but just as fast. This was one critter that we couldn't get a photo of, as it was just too quick for us. A more worrying part of the route was when we saw a wrecked car, which had obviously taken a corner too quickly. The worrying thing wasn't this though but the fact that there were bullet holes in the side of it. We hoped that the car had been used for target practise after the accident.

      ***The History Of Oatman***

      Originally called Vivian, Oatman was renamed in 1908, after Olive Oatman who was kidnapped near Gila Bend by Indians in 1851. Her parents were killed but her brother rescued her some 6 years later near where the town is today. He had been left for dead but had managed to survive the attack and followed up leads about a white girl living with a group of Mohave Indians. Between 1904 and 1931 there were over fifty mines in the area and between them they produced over 36 million dollars in gold ore and that was the price back then so you can only imagine what it would be worth today.

      The hotel in the town is quite a famous one and was built in 1902. The reason it became famous is thanks to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard who spent their honeymoon at that spot in 1939. This is also known to be a pretty spooky place and there have been hauntings seen on a regular basis throughout the years.

      Population rose to around 10,000 but unfortunately the mines were eventually closed and the town began to suffer. Oatman became a bit of a tourist spot on this famous route but again this was to change when the Interstate 40 was made and this took a lot of people away from this quaint little town.

      We found out that it's wasn't exactly a ghost town in the sense that Rhyolite was because there are still a few shops and food establishments and Rhyolite was totally deserted, but that didn't mean we didn't enjoy it.

      ***Oatman Today***

      When we arrived in Oatman, we saw that it was only a small town with a road running right through the centre of it. There are no car parks and you just have to pull up at the side of the road in front of one of the small stores or saloons. When you step out of your car you could just close your eyes and imagine that you are standing in the middle of an old time western. In fact the only thing that takes this feeling away is the site of modern cars parked along both sides of the main street.

      The street is only a couple of hundred yards long and we parked at the bottom end of it so we were able to have a look around first, as we drove slowly through. I say driving slowly, but in fact you have to sometimes stop completely, as the rulers of this road are most definitely the wild burros that wander up and down.

      As we parked, the first place that caught our eye was a store called Fast Fanny's Place, AKA Ringo's Hangout. Of course this had us in stitches especially at the picture on the sign, which showed a dancer showing off her derriere. We also had to laugh at the big pants that were hanging up outside with the slogan, 'World's largest source of natural gas' on them. Inside the shop there were a lot of handmade items, such as purses, wind chimes and dream catchers.

      Moving up the street we came to Olive Oatman's Restaurant & Ice Cream Saloon which offered hungry travellers hamburgers, hot dogs or chilli, to mention a few. After the big breakfast we had at the Best Western in Kingman, this was not what we were looking for so we strolled on.

      A sign saying, 'Why walk around half dead when we can bury you for only $27' was next to catch our eye. This was nailed on the outside of a building and hung above a coffin, which of course I asked my hubby to try out for size. Unfortunately it was a little bit short for him but we had a laugh about it anyway.

      We also had fun sticking our heads through various fun signs for photographic memories of this strange little town. From jackasses to cactus plants we did the tourist thing and made fun of each other.

      One of the other fun stores we had to stop and look at was Outlaw Willie's. This rickety wooden building didn't really look safe but it had some beautiful items for sale and some amusing wanted posters in the window advertising the gunfights that occur at high noon each day. It was just a shame that we had arrived at around 10am and didn't have time to stick around for that.

      Carrots are available to buy in many of the shops along the street and you can choose to feed some of the wild burros but you are kindly asked not to feed the baby burros carrots as they could choke on them. There were signs all over town to warn people about this and also to be careful as the burros can be temperamental and may bite if they so choose.

      ***My Thoughts***

      I have to say that we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Oatman, despite not seeing any gunfights. A lot of the owners of the stores were dressed up in traditional clothing and a couple of cowboys wandered around, played piano or just sat and looked mean at passers by.

      There were a lot of lovely items for sale in this small town and each item was delicately stitched, painted or carved. Most items were very reasonably priced too. As well as new items, there were a lot of collectibles and antiques around and I could have quite happily browsed for hours.

      We spent around an hour wandering up and down the street and looking in all the specialist shops, as well as marvelling at the occasional bit of tumbleweed that drifted by to set off that old time feel about the place.

      The history of the place had me enthralled and there were plaques and information boards to tell you a bit about this. The stories of the hauntings at the hotel were also amusing and the thought of a drunken Irish miner causing friendly havoc through the hotel was interesting to say the least.

      Everything about this place was adorable. From the old wooden buildings and traditional costumes to the burros walking down the road as if they owned it, we loved every minute and only wish that we could have stayed longer.

      This review also appears on Ciao with photos.

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    • Product Details

      Oatman began as a mining town in 1915 when miners struck gold. It is an authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. Spend a night at the Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, and request the room where Clark Gable stayed!