The mention of Route 66 to most baby-boomers conjures up images of George Maharis and Martin Milner cruising along in their early Corvette roadster in the television series of the same name.
While reminiscing, you have the popular rhythm and blues standard (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66 echoing through your mind. Composed in 1946 by songwriter Bobby Troup, this hit song was followed by the Route 66 TV drama in the early ’60s.
But a trip to Oatman, a small, quaint community situated in Western Arizona will quite possibly reveal a whole new dimension to that 60-year-old song.
Tucked away on a very old section of Route 66, Oatman is about 25 miles from Kingman and Bullhead, Arizona, and Needles, California. This allows for a quick day trip from any of these locations.
Upon entering the historic old downtown, visitors are greeted by wild burros that roam up and down the main street hoping to get a healthy snack. These seemingly tame creatures actually live in a free-range area of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land adjacent to the tiny town. The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out.
No matter how tame they seem, the burros are wild animals. Use caution and common sense when feeding them. Do not feed junk food to the burros. Local merchants sell bagged carrots for $1, a small price to pay to meet a new friend!
It’s best to leave Rover at home. Many burros consider the family pooch nothing more than a coyote with connections.
Most of the shops and restaurants that line the main street are housed in the buildings that were constructed soon after gold was discovered in the area in 1902. As with most mining towns of the Old West, Oatman is a shadow of its former self. Once catering to a vibrant population boasting nearly 20,000 people, there are a little over 100 folks that live here today.
Oatman has about 40 gift, antique, and craft shops, two Old Time Photo Shops, Judy’s Bar, assorted ghosts, and several places to eat and listen to live music.
The town first became known as Vivian, after the Vivian Mining Company, which produced over $3 million in gold ore during the early 1900s. In 1909, the name was changed to Oatman, to honor Olive Oatman, a young child who had been abducted by Apache Indians during the 1850s. She was subsequently rescued near the present town site.
Several economic cycles relating to the mining industry have occurred in the area over the years, but after the rerouting of Route 66 in 1952, the town’s success quickly faded. Since then, it has become a popular tourist town. Because of the numerous old buildings and the towering mountains, the area has had its share of appearances in various movies, including How The West Was Won and Foxfire. The old Oatman Hotel (formerly Drulin Hotel, circa 1902) is still in operation today and is reported to be where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent their wedding night.
Beyond the burros, shops, and restaurants, Oatman also features costumed dancers and daily gunfights to help preserve the feeling of the Old West. There are various special events, too.
When traveling with your RV, it is strongly recommended that you use your tow vehicle or toad to make your way to and around Oatman. This is especially true if driving from Kingman on old Route 66, coming over Sitgreaves Pass. This section, although graced with breathtaking scenery, is extremely twisty and steep. Vehicle length is limited to 40 feet. Few or no turnarounds for larger vehicles are available in the downtown area of Oatman.
Numerous RV parks are available in Bullhead City, Kingman, and Needles. Additionally, Lake Havasu is only 55 miles away. When in the Kingman area, we use Blake Ranch RV Park as our home base.
Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads, and wild burros. And one of the most scenic drives in the state.
Now that’s something to bray about.
So many ghosts upon the road,
My eyes I swear are playing tricks;
And a voice I hear, it’s Tom Joad,
Near Oatman on Route 66.