12 Miles to Oatman

Richard Charpentier Arizona, Photography, Route 66 6 Comments

As we made our way out to Oatman this morning the GPS ticked off the mileage. A 3 hour drive just to see an old mining town along Route 66. One of the folks at Point of Rocks mentioned the place to me a few months ago, and that was enough to get my interest.

The closer we got to the active mining town the shorter the mileage indicated by the GPS became. I called out, “12 Miles to Oatman.” Sadira thought that would be a good title for a blog post. She was right!

Oatman is definitely off the beaten track. Route 40 for a few hours of riding (we skipped doing Route 66 on the way out), pass through Kingman, then hang a right onto Route 66 into nowhere! At the point where we were twelve miles out the ride reminded me of Salton Sea. Very little in the area, washes everywhere, a rough strange road, and a fairly lonely feeling.

The ride climbed out of a low area full of washes into a small set of mountains. Clearly Oatman was on the other side of this little range. As we climbed we came across a “familiar sight.”

Since the first Route 66 trip the other month we’ve both been reading about the famous roadway.  One interesting site, an old stone faced gas station, was listed as a Kingman must see.  Glad to find out, the station wasn’t in Kingman, it was on the way to Oatman!  Lucky us!

We’d climbed half way up the mountain range and were happy to see the gas station.  Both of us recognized it immediately!  It was quite the find!  I slowed the Versa down and we pulled in.  Cameras came out, a tripod was setup, and the fun for the morning began!

The station rests along Route 66 right before the road to Oatman gets a little hairy!  Leaving the station we found a super narrow road, steep drop offs, and plenty of donkey droppings.  Yes, wild donkeys dot the countryside near Oatman.  The after effects of miners turning their animals loose.

Leaving the station we climbed to the highest point along the road.  Only a couple of thousand feet high.  Well below our elevation in Prescott.  We could both see why migrants during the Depression often left their belongings behind and asked locals to drive them down to Oatman.  I could only imagine that road in its earlier days.  You wouldn’t get me to take a car with no AC or Airbags down the road!

Arriving in Oatman we parked and began walking the town.  It was fairly busy with tourists speaking many different languages.  Ah, just like the Grand Canyon the other week!  People buzzing in and out of the local shops, checking out the mining signs, and enjoying themselves.

I wasn’t having such a great time.  The town had an “odd” feel to it.  The old board walks along the road were nice, but there was a darker feeling to the place.

Actually, that might have been due to all the fenced in areas I saw coming to the town.  Razor wire mixed with barbed wire atop large fences.  The reason for the fences?  Small holes cut into the ground….. Active mines dotted the way into town.  Those no trespassing signs meant business!

The dark feeling might have a lot to do with the town’s history.  A stop on the way for “Okies” heading West on their journey started by hard times.  Or maybe all the issues that came up between miners during “the day.”  Whatever it was, for me the town felt a little less touristy and a little more serious.

During our time there we saw no wild donkeys in town.  They’re a normal feature, and I’m sorry to say we missed them.  Also, while there I couldn’t get any great photos of the town.  Too many cars along Route 66.  An old fashioned gun fight in the center of the road with other tourists crowding around.  Generally bad conditions for getting a few of the photos I was hoping for.  Ah well!

We ended our time in Oatman with a visit to a local antique shop.  That shop left me believing in my initial feeling that things were a little off indeed.  At least for me they were today.  Going into the shop we found almost nothing on the shelves.  The person running the store returned to the counter and read a book.  Empty containers dotted many shelves.  What was she selling?  Why even open up, there’s nothing here?  Too strange, too strange!

Overall it was still a good day.  I’ve now gotten to visit Oatman and see the mining town for myself.  We had a nice stop in Kingman, and then we took Route 66 all the way back through Seligman.  I even picked up a few tourist items for myself in Seligman.  Hey, I can be cheeky sometimes you know!  😉

As we headed home we got to watch an amazing light show.  Slightly to our North we watched a monsoonal storm approach.  Large lightening bolts arched across the sky.  Black streaks of rain were off in the distance.  And as we rode we read off Burma Shave signs once more.

Definitely another interesting day along Route 66.  Granted, I don’t think you’ll ever catch me spending the night in Oatman, but it might be worth another visit on a weekday when it’s a touch cooler!

Comments 6

  1. With the price of gold sky high, I don’t doubt you passed by land double posted with NO TRESPASSING signs. There are boondocky spots along the Hassayampa much closer to town where you have to be careful when gold brings in real money as it’s currently doing.

  2. Granny J,

    On our way up and down (both sides) there were signs about active mining. Shortly after the gas station there was a sign about 5 active mines….on the way down, many more. You’re right, with the price of gold things are running again. After reading the history of Oatman it sounds like that place was the biggest gold producer in Arizona. I’ll respect those no trespassing signs!


    It was an interesting spot with the wrong vibe for me. I’d like to be there when it’s less busy so I could get more shots of the old buildings!

  3. Actually, 12 Miles to Oatman was the name suggested for your autobiography…as I think we’ve found ourselves 12 miles from somewhere every time we go journey together…it beats the heck out of 15 More Minutes!! or Are We There Yet??

    I am so happy we found the gas station, and I loved poking around inside looking at the amazing vintage Mobile displays and hand tinted postcards of Route 66 they had…I am still thinking about the 2 things we found in there that we hesitated to pick up for ourselves though…sigh. Well, I suppose that would be a good reason to go back…because after spending a little time in Oatman, I would hesitate to go running back. I thought it was quite spooky…I think it’s the underlying feeling of sadness and a kind of despair that often hangs over these old west towns…so much history. I would think too, that mining towns could be quite violent as well…there’s a lot at stake in them. I was fascinated to read that Oatman is Arizona’s largest producer (if that’s the right word) of gold. I think there’s been something like $30 million taken out of there…whoa. Hence the barbed wire, eh? It’s hard to believe because it’s such a tiny weird little place…I also wonder where they stuffed all those people that went running there after the first $14 strike…there seems to be no evidence of anything other than the 100 people that live there now…definitely weird.

    I am wanting to go back to Kingman and explore their “downtown” and take some pictures of those wonderful neon signs as well…of course, nighttime might be better to do that…and how nice it was to go back to Seligman’s barber shop and watch you indulge your cheeky side…You cheeky little monkey! 😉

  4. I got the Twilight Zone chills as I read about your walk about town. It is wise to pay attention to what you feel about a place and take care.


  5. I had a moment Larry. We went into an old hotel. I really liked the floors, and I wanted to photograph them. Sadira suggested walking upstairs into the hotel, and I just didn’t want to. Too musty, too much mold smell, and just an odd feeling about the place. Just didn’t want to go up those stairs for some reason.

    It is an interesting tourist spot for sure, and I’d really like to photograph it more on a slower day. But I think there’s a lot of history just bleeding through the place, and it’s a rougher type of history than other sites I’ve visited. Odd, but that’s how it felt to me.

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