Monday, February 27, 2012

Route 66 Expedition to Oatman, Arizona

Oatman is a former mining town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona, resting at an elevation of 2,710 feet. What began as a tent camp after two prospectors struck a ten million dollar gold mine in 1915, within a year grew to a population of 3,500 people. However, in just 9 years after that, the town's main employer, United Eastern Mines, shut down operations. The mining industry trickled along until 1941, when all of the area gold mining operations were ordered closed by the U.S. government, because war efforts required mining resources be turned away from gold, and towards the mining of other metals needed for the war effort.

Fortunately for Oatman, it was located on the U.S. Route 66 and was able to cater to travelers driving between Kingman and Needles, California. For this reason, their little town survived a while longer. Oatman is very proud of its Route 66 heritage, and replicas of the Route 66 black on white highway shield signs are posted all over the town. Likewise, Route 66 souvenirs are available for purchase in just about every store along the little main street.

But Oatman is famous for something beyond its Route 66 heritage! It seems that the prospectors left more than abandoned mines when they exited. The prospectors left their donkeys (also called burros in Spanish), and these donkeys now roam free through the streets and nearby areas of Oatman. This collage shows some of the tourists feeding the donkeys. Though they are normally gentle, the donkeys are in fact wild, and signs posted throughout the town warn tourists to exercise caution. The cautionary note extends to more than just petting or feeding the wild creatures. You also have to be very careful where you step, as illustrated by one of the photos in the collage!

As our bus inched its way down Oatman's main street, (the famous "mother-road" Route 66), the driver not only had to dodge donkeys, but there was also an "Oatman Outlaw" smack dab in the middle of the road, saying with his body language that the driver was to proceed no further! The passenger on our bus who was a journalist from Hong Kong, was astonished by this scene, and ran to the front of the bus to capture it on film! (photo on left shows his profile)

It seems that our vehicle had just driven into Oatman's weekend "street theater", and as soon as the passengers could get out of our bus, we joined the fun of watching characters in period costumes, recreate a scene from the wild west----complete with the sound of bullets (blanks, of course!) and the sight of smoking guns!

These characters get to put on this show on weekends, and appeared to be really enjoying entertaining the crowd that gathered to watch their antics.

There were "Oatman Outlaw" souvenirs to purchase, after their performance, with the money going to a good cause.

This photograph shows the Oatman Hotel, which is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mojave County, and is listed as a Mojave County historical landmark. Its main claim to fame is that it is the place where a famous Hollywood couple (Clark Gable and Carol Lombard) honeymooned on March 18, 1939, after they eloped and were married in Kingman, Arizona.

Today, the hotel is famous for another reason---its restaurant. That is because tourists have pasted, or taped, or hung, or stapled, one dollar bills on the walls, floor, and ceiling of this ancient structure! Some restaurants may pay a lot of money FOR its interior decoration, but the Oatman Hotel restaurant uses a lot of money AS its interior decoration! Some estimates say there are 40,000-60,000 one dollar bills covering every square inch of surface available!

Due to recent world-wide interest in Route 66, many European and Asian tourists go on tours that are designed to visit Route 66 sites exclusively. The aforementioned journalist from Hong Kong, was interested in getting a photo of these leather-clad motorcyclists for his publication, to show his readers an example of what they might expect to find during their tour of Route 66.

Another reason Oatman is popular with foreign tourists is because the surrounding landscape shows images of the town that are more in keeping with the movies about the wild West that are so popular overseas.

My family took Route 66 from Arkansas to California back in the late fifties. It was before our family car had airconditioning, so we were advised to cross the dessert at night, to avoid the blistering hot sun of mid-July, in the Mojave Desert. Maybe that is why I do not have any memory of going through Oatman on that trip. Or maybe, it is because we had driven through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and most of Arizona by then, and it had all become a blur to me! But it was a memorable trip, and I cherish the memories of a family roadtrip vacation along the original "Mainstreet of America" to go out to see my California cousins!

Seeing a donkey going down the middle of a road reminded me of the story of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem. Matthew 21:5 says "See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey." In Eastern traditions, a donkey is a symbol of peace, versus the horse which is an animal of war. Thus, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was as Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king. During his entry, the people laid down palm fronds in front of Jesus, as a way to show honor. This is the basis for our modern day Palm Sunday celebration, which is always the Sunday before Easter. This year, Easter is on April 8, and Palm Sunday is on April 1. It would be a great time to gather with other Christians to worship God. Some of my most memorable Easter season worship services are from times when I was outside the walls of my home church: I remember climbing to the rocky summit of "Pilot's Knob Mountain" near Harrison, Arkansas, for an Easter sunrise service when I was in high school. I remember spending one Easter Sunday at a hospital in Sherman, Texas, for the birth of a grandson. I remember being in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on Palm Sunday back in the 1980's, and being given a palm frond, in recognition of the palm fronds spread before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. More recently, I remember worshipping with a friend at an Easter service in Mt. Shasta, California. And just last year, I had the opportunity to worship with one of my cousins of the Catholic faith, at his home church in Sacramento, California. Regardless of where you find yourself this Easter season, seek out a way to worship with other Christ-followers. You can find out more by visiting about the church where I worship, in the Baxter County area. If you are in the Oatman area (or anywhere else for that matter!), log onto for church contact information. A great place for overnight lodging in the Oatman area, is nearby Laughlin, Nevada. Complete visitor information for that city is available at Regardless of where you find yourself during the Easter season, I hope you will rejoice in the good news that HE IS RISEN! Miles of smiles! Tricia

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