Sunday, December 23, 2007

Historic Oatman, Arizona

Lately I've really been getting into day-trips. There's something fun about driving to the outskirts of town and looking for things that are interesting or historic. And that's exactly what we did while visiting Tim's family over the Christmas weekend. Our destination: Oatman, Arizona.

The historic gold mining town of Oatman, AZ. (12/23/07)
The historic gold mining town of Oatman, AZ. (12/23/07)

Set in Arizona's black mountains, Oatman's history dates back to the Western expansion of the mid 19th century. In fact, the town was named after Olive Oatman, a young Mormon pioneer girl who at the age of 12 or 13 was kidnapped by Indians and forced to work as a slave. She was rescued six years later, near the area where the town now sits.

The scenic drive to Oatman, AZ. (12/23/07)
The scenic drive to Oatman, AZ. (12/23/07)

The town never really amounted to anything until 1902 when gold was discovered. That same year the Oatman Hotel was built. It still stands today. Although Oatman was sparsely populated before the gold discovery, this burgeoning mining town swelled to 3,500 residents by 1915.

The elephant's tooth in Oatman, Arizona. (12/23/07)
The elephant's tooth in Oatman, Arizona. (12/23/07)

Like all good things, the gold rush eventually fizzled out. In 1924 the town's main employer went out of business. But the town still managed to keep afloat from the 1920s to the 1950s due to the fact that Route 66 went right through the main street. This made Oatman a popular stop for people driving from Needles to Kingman.

Oatman Hotel, Since 1902. (12/23/07)
Oatman Hotel, Since 1902. (12/23/07)

In 1939 the town got another huge boost when Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard selected the Oatman Hotel as the locale for their honeymoon. They were married in nearby Kingman, but selected the Oatman Hotel due to its remote location, away from the public eye. When you go upstairs you can actually see their honeymoon suite (#15).

The bed inside the Clark Gable / Carole Lombard honeymoon suite. (12/23/07)
The bed inside the Clark Gable / Carole Lombard honeymoon suite. (12/23/07)

Another interesting sight inside the hotel is the room that proprieters claim is haunted by a friendly ghost named Oatie. Oatie was actually one William Ray Flour, an Irish miner who died nearby. FYI, I didn't see any ghosts while I was there.

Haunted room in the historic Oatman Hotel. (12/23/07)
Haunted room in the historic Oatman Hotel. (12/23/07)

Oatman's heyday came to a close in 1953 when it was bypassed in favor of a newer highway that was built between Needles and Kingman (kind of like what happened to Radiator Springs in the film Cars). By the time the 1960s rolled around, Oatman was all but abandoned. But Oatman did make another Hollywood connection when it was selected as a filming location for How the West Was Won.

The now-touristy Oatman, AZ. (12/23/07)
The now-touristy Oatman, AZ. (12/23/07)

Due to the success of nearby Laughlin, NV, as well as the Route 66 resurgence, the town of Oatman has seen a re-birth of sorts. Today it is a full-blown tourist destination, with an entire strip of souvenir shops, gunfight re-enactments and most notably, wild burros that roam the main street looking for people to feed them carrots that you can buy for a buck a bag.

Wild jackasses looking for food. (12/23/07)
Wild jackasses looking for food. (12/23/07)

Tim and I also visited a dusty old museum at the edge of town (the one with a sign that says: "Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard walked through these doors in How the West was Won.") Another thing not to miss is the restaurant and bar on the ground floor of the historic Oatman Hotel. It has the distinction of being wallpapered entirely with dollar bills. We went inside, but didn't eat there (we'll have to save that experience for next time).

A glimpse inside the dollar bill bar. (12/23/07)
A glimpse inside the dollar bill bar. (12/23/07)

It was a fun little town. We didn't need to spend a lot of time there. An hour will pretty much wrap it up. Double that if you plan to have lunch at the dollar-bill-wallpapered restaurant. But if you're in the area, definitely check it out.

3 comments:

beastandbean said...

Wow...that sounds like a pretty cool town. Funny that you mentioned "CARS", I was totally thinking of that town too...

My favorite thing there though would have to be the bed where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard slept on their honeymoon. How awesome! That weird old dress on the chair in the background is a bit freaky though...I highly doubt it belonged to Miss Lombard...but still, everything else sounds super fun.

Love the dollar bill place too, though I'd guess you'd have better luck foodwise sticking to the dollar bags of carrots for the burros! =)

Next time we visit Tim's parents, we are totally gonna hit Oatman!

TIM said...

WOW! I think you just wrote a better advertisement for Oatman then their Tourism Bureau!

Grumpy said...

Well done James,I've been visiting Oatman for about 4yrs now and didn't get as deep into the details. Next time you visit try the gold mine tour, it is very interesting. Right now mining operations may be on going with the current high price of gold.

Grumpy