Oatman, Arizona an old Gold Rush Town
We had always heard of Oatman, Az as a fun place to visit and of all things it had wild burros wandering the streets so we decided to go see it when we were in the area. What a great trip is was and we had the fun of driving old Us Highway 66. I (Melinda) had been on Old Highway 66 when I was a child with my parents, but I had never been back so it was a nostalgic and extra special trip for me.
From Laughlin, Needles or Bullhead City, Arizona, Oatman is a short drive on State Route 95 to its intersection with Boundary Cone Road in Fort Mohave. About 10 miles (16 km) east of SR 95, Boundary Cone Road meets with old 66, now named the “Oatman Highway.” Oatman is only about four miles (6.5 km) from there. However, we decided to take the longer route from I 40 in the south so that we could experience more of the Old Highway 66.
We left I 40 at Oatman-Topock Hwy & Interstate 40 & Historic Route 66, in Topock, AZ and headed north. The first stop was at the entrance of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge where we stopped to clean our windshield in preparation for the picture taking and video. Unfortunately it did not stay clean long.
“A great river in a dry, hot land attracts wildlife and people like a powerful magnet. Today, thousands of visitors annually flock to the refuge to boat through the spectacular Topock Gorge, to fish in Topock Marsh, or to hike in the Havasu Wilderness Area.The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants.
Visitors to the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge have many choices to enjoy the outdoors, including fishing, boating, kayaking and canoeing, hunting and wildlife watching. The refuge provides important habitat for many species, including 318 documented species of birds that rest, nest or feed on this important. Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, originally named Havasu Lake National Wildlife Refuge, was established by Executive Order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 for the primary purpose of providing migratory bird habitat. The refuge is comprised of 37,515 acres along the lower Colorado river in Arizona and California. The refuge protects 30 river miles and encompasses 300 miles of shoreline from Needles, California, to Lake Havasu City, Arizona. One of the last remaining natural stretches of the lower Colorado River flows through the 20-mile long Topock Gorge.”
Oatman is a former mining town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona. It began as a tent camp soon after two prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915, though the area had been already settled for a number of years. Oatman’s population grew to more than 3,500 in the course of a year. For the next half century mining waxed and waned in the district until new technology, reduced transportation costs, and new gold discoveries brought prosperity to Oatman early in the twentieth century. The boom of 1915-17 gave Oatman all the characters and characteristics of any gold rush boom town. For about a decade, t he mines of Oatman were among the large gold producers in the West.
Oatman was named in the posthumous honor of Olive Oatman, a young Illinois girl who was presumably taken captive by Yavapai Indians. She was later traded to Mohave Indians who adopted her as a daughter and had her face tattooed in the custom of the tribe. She was released in 1855 near the current site of the town.
In 1921, a fire burned down many of Oatman’s smaller buildings, but spared the Oatman Hotel. Built in 1902, the now-Oatman Hotel is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mohave County, a Mohave County historical landmark and is especially famous as the honeymoon stop of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard after their wedding in Kingman on March 18, 1939. Gable fell in love with the area and returned often to play poker with the miners. The Gable/Lombard honeymoon suite is one of the hotel’s major attractions.
1924 would see United Eastern Mines, the town’s main employer, permanently shut down operations after producing $13,600,000 worth of gold. The district had produced $40 million (or $2,600,000,000 or so in today’s market price )in gold by 1941, when the remainder of the town’s gold mining operations were ordered shut down by the US Government as part of the country’s war effort since metals other than gold were needed.
Oatman was fortunate insofar as it was located on busy U.S. Route 66 and was able to cater to travelers driving between Kingman and Needles, California. Even that advantage was short-lived as the town was completely bypassed in 1953 when a new route between Kingman and Needles was built. By the 1960s, Oatman was all but abandoned.
Oatman has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years thanks to burgeoning worldwide interest in Route 66 and the explosive growth of the nearby gaming town of Laughlin, Nevada, which promotes visits to the town. Wild burros freely roam the town and can be hand-fed hay cubes otherwise known as “burro chow,” readily available in practically every store in town.
The burros are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors, and are protected by the US Department of the Interior.
U.S. Route 66 (US 66, Route 66) covered 401 miles (645 km) as part of a former United States Numbered Highway in the state of Arizona. The highway ran from west to east, starting in Needles, California, through Kingman and Seligman to the New Mexico state line as part of the historic US 66 from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois. The highway was decommissioned in 1985, although portions remain as State Route 66 (SR 66).
In 1914 the road was designated “National Old Trails Highway”; in 1926 it was re-designated as US 66. One section just outside Oatman, Arizona, through the Black Mountains, was fraught with hairpin turns and was the steepest along the entire route, so much so that some early travellers, too frightened at the prospect of driving such a potentially dangerous road, hired locals to navigate the winding grade. The section remained as Route 66 until 1953, and is still open to traffic today as the Oatman Highway.
On October 13, 1984, Williams, Arizona, was the last point on US 66 to be bypassed by an Interstate highway. US 66 was dropped from the US Highway system in 1985; parts of the highway were either absorbed into Interstate 40 (I-40), turned over to the state (SR 66), or turned over to Yavapai County.