November 19, 2018

Photo Essay: The Ghost Town That Won't Die, And the Animals That Keep It Alive

"Have you been to Oatman?" Robert asked. "No, but it's on my list."

A typical response from me.

Someone else asked, "What's in Oatman?" and all I could say was "I ferget."

Also typical.

But pulling up into the town of Oatman, Arizona early Sunday morning, it quickly became clear what attracts visitors to this Old West town along the Mother Road.

The burros.

"You can pet them," one of the shopkeepers said, "but they are wild."

In reality, they're incredibly habituated to the townspeople of Oatman as well as those who're just passing through.

They don't budge unless you've got food.

And then, they'll make a beeline for you.

Between feeding them directly and selling bags of pressed pellets...

...the locals keep the adult wild donkeys munching away...

...and discourage visitors from giving any food to the babies who are still nursing.

And what babies there were! Opal had been born three days before. She was too new to the scene to ask for food or to fear humans. Her coat was so soft.

The burros are a living reminder of the town's legacy as a late bloomer in the Gold Rush—first as Blue Ridge Camp, then renamed Oatman in 1909.

From about 1906 to the mid-1930s or early 1940s, their ancestors were used as livestock and labor—they worked in and around the mines, hauling rock, ore, and water.

By 1942, all the mines had closed.

When the prospectors and miners moved on, they left their hardworking companions behind, releasing them into the hills.

So what you see now is just a fraction of the herd of once-domesticated animals gone wild, coming down into town for a snack...

...timing their journey with the arrival of carloads and busloads of tourists exploring Route 66.

Like similar living ghost towns like Randsburg and Oro Grande in Southern California, Oatman embraces its history in spades...

...with thriving businesses like a saloon, roadside museums, and antique shops...

...with names like Jackass Junction, The Classy Ass, and The Buck Tooth Burro.

In the center of town, there's the Oatman Hotel, which lives in infamy as where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard cozied up in the honeymoon suite of what was then known as the Durlin Hotel, in 1939.

Built in 1902 and rebuilt after a fire in 1924, it's supposedly haunted by the ghosts of both of them.

It's one of the only places in town you can get breakfast and a cup of good, hot coffee...

...which you'll enjoy in the "dollar bill bar," surrounded by an undetermined amount of dollar bills signed by tourists and stapled to the walls...

...and nearly every other surface, too.

Back in the town's heyday, the miners would tack their dollars up on the wall and sign them when they had the money; and when they didn't, they would go looking for their signed bills to pay their tabs.

Although the focus of Oatman shifted away from mining in the advent of World War II (when materials for the war effort were far more valuable than precious metals), the town continued to thrive during the 1940s with all the folks in cars getting their kicks on Route 66 and passing right though the center of town.

But in 1952, Interstate 40 essentially replaced the Mother Road and bypassed Oatman. The town would've fallen off the map entirely if it hadn't been for the periodic return of mining to the area, which even persists today.

But of course, the biggest draw for those outside the mining industry is the burros. And even if you weren't planning on stopping in town, the burros will block the road and stick their noses in your car windows.

After that, it's hard to resist staying for awhile.

Related Posts:
In Search of the Mother Lode Along the Mother Road
Photo Essay: Randsburg, a Living Ghost Town?
Photo: Feeding the Wild Horses
Photo Essay: Welcoming 100 Mules to LA After Walking the Aqueduct

No comments:

Post a Comment