things to do in oatman arizona

Oatman: A Thriving “Ghost Town” on the Arizona Border

February 15, 2022 /

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

If your road trip goes from Arizona to California, keep in mind that Arizona, the state with such wonders as Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend or Antelope Canyon will never cease to surprise you. After visiting the Grand Canyon, you may think you have seen it all and as you approach the scorching  Mojave Desert, when you have almost reached the border with the Golden State, just a few miles from Kingman, Arizona, you can take a step back in time in Oatman!

What is Oatman?

what to do in oatman azOatman is a mysterious and tiny town surrounded by the Black Mountains that overlooks the Mojave Desert. A little more than half a century ago, it was a prime strategic base for miners (there are still a couple of active mines) and those seeking gold. Like many other old towns, Oatman has become a ghost town. Another example is Bodie.

But what is it that differentiates Oatman from all these small, uninhabited, dusty museum towns? The answer, simply put, is that the hundred or so inhabitants of Oatman are determined not to let the town degrade into a ghost town; they fight the battle against time to keep traditions alive. You’ll find old stores with dilapidated signs lining both sides of a narrow, dusty street, sidewalks that look like creaking platforms bordered by shabby wooden fences, small markets set up under gazebos, with locals sitting in chairs, talking loudly as they make trinkets, gizmos and souvenirs to sell to patrons. Beneath the planks of the slightly elevated wooden “walkways” that line the sides of the road, there is probably some small snake hiding.

What to Do in Oatman? A Town of Burros, Miners, and Cowboys

how to get in oatman arizona

One of the coolest features of Oatman is definitely the herd of burros that roam along the short stretch of Main Street. The burros are small donkeys, which have certainly become more domesticated since they have been inhabiting the town. They chase tourists for food, gently nuzzling their backs for some “chow butter”, the food they are crazy about that is available in every little store in Oatman.

Both friendly and rude, these donkeys are the main attraction of Oatman, or rather, judging by the nonchalance with which they walk around the town, it almost seems that they are the undisputed masters of the town, especially when they blithely ignore the rare cars that pass, creating brief and unexpected traffic. And if you honk your horn, you may be reprimanded by the inhabitants. After all, these donkeys are protected by the US Department of the Interior. oatman ghost townAlmost at the end of the town, on one side of a square, which has hippie influences, you will also find the tiny reconstruction of a mine, in which you can enter. In the darkness of the mine, you can experience, in a small way, how the miners got around the narrow passages. Also, make sure to be in Oatman between 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm, because if you don’t, you might miss the benefit shows of the Ghost Rider Gunfighters, cowboy actors who stage epic dialogues and realistic gun duels in the middle of the street among the donkeys that pass by.

Where to Eat in Oatman: The Hotel Where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Stayed

Oatman Route 66It won’t take you long to drive through the town. When you get to the other side, you can turn around and visit the Oatman Hotel, the only historic hotel in town. What’s so special about this old building built at the beginning of the last century, besides having survived a terrible fire in 1921? The first reason is that on March 18, 1939, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, after their wedding ceremony in nearby Kingman, came to spend their honeymoon in this little hotel before heading to their home in Encino, Los Angeles. Oatman ghost town attractionsYou’ll see countless photos of the famous couple around the lobby. But if you look closely, you will also notice another important guest of the hotel, and this is the second reason to visit the hotel. In fact, it is said that a good-natured ghost named Oatie roams around the rooms of the hotel. If you’re hungry, enter the adjoining dining room, whose walls – but also the ceilings and everything that was wallpapered – are covered with thousands and thousands of one-dollar bills (with dedications and memories written on them), some of which are really old. The managers talk about a total of $ 100,000, which would be enough to close the place down! Eat an excellent double buffalo burger with fries, listen to live country music at lunch or dinner, and hang your dollar bill, that is, if you find any free space!

How to Get to Oatman: The “Bloody” Route 66

How to Get to OatmanIf all of these good reasons to stop by Oatman weren’t enough for you, we’ll give you one that’s sure to convince you. Oatman Road, the rugged road that climbs through the mountains and the scarce vegetation of the Mojave Desert for about ten miles, is nothing more than a stretch of the famous Route 66. And that’s not all. It’s so dangerous that it’s called Bloody 66!

In case your previous stop was the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff, you might have taken the safe Route 40 towards Kingman. But, if you just couldn’t resist the all-American charm of Route 66, you could have taken it at Seligman, not far from Williams. Although it is part of Route 66, it’s nothing compared to the last stretch of road when you arrive near the Kingman Airport and turn onto the Oatman Road.

This is where the real Bloody 66 begins. 10 thrilling miles of narrow, bumpy road, without even a single guard rail. 10 miles that will seem never-ending, with killer curves, old-style gas pumps, shacks and prefabs, cliffs, and desert landscapes. It’s an unforgettable route that will take you to Oatman, to the time of cowboys and gold fever… By the way, there is another similar town in Arizona called Tombstone

Map of Oatman

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Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

bernardo pacini
Bernardo Pacini

I am an editor and copywriter and have published some poetry. Besides traveling, my interests include literature, experimental music and good food

2 thoughts on “Oatman: A Thriving “Ghost Town” on the Arizona Border”

  1. We visit Oatman every time we have family and friends visit — it is always (without exception) good, relaxed, low-key family fun. From shooting toy guns in the arcade, to browsing western/mining shopping, to feeding donkeys and watching a fun-based shoot-out reenactment.
    I recently lost my wallet in Oatman, and multiple community members went far above and beyond what was required to help me find it. Store owners will watch for your missing documents, and won’t let anyone charge on your cards until you let them know otherwise. Such a friendly, helpful community!

    Reply
  2. I recently found my way to Oatman for the first time and what an amazing day I had with my first ex wife. We reconnected after 46 years and she now lives in Kingman, I am now living in EVERYBODY’S HOMETOWN BEAUTIFUL PRESKITT. We do plan on visiting Oatman again real soon.

    Reply

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