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Oatman

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"Home of Gold Mines, Wild Burros & Tame Gunfighters"

Oatman a "wild west gold mining town" with many Route 66 attractions: Sitgreaves Pass, Goldroad, Mining Ghost town, Cool Springs Service Station, and the road itself: The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway. Don't miss the Gunfights and Burros in town or The historic Durlin (Oatman) Hotel in Oatman.

Oatman AZ

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About Oatman, Arizona

Facts, Trivia and useful information

Elevation 2,710 ft (826 m). Population 128 (2000).
Time zone: Mountain (MST): UTC minus 7 hours. Summer (DST) no DST⁄ PDT (UTC-7).

Oatman is a small village, an unincorporated community in western Mohave County, on Route 66, northwestern Arizona. (Map of Oatman).

Main St. (Route 66) and the Oatman Hotel

Main Street -Route 66- and the Oatman Hotel in Oatman,  Arizona
View of Main St. and the Oatman Hotel , Oatman, Arizona, by

Oatman's History

photo of Olive Oatman

Olive Oatman, notice the ritual chin tattoo Credits

The Colorado River valley has been inhabited for the last 10,000 years. The European explorers encountered the Mojave people, a name which is a deformed version of "aha", water, and "macave", along or beside, therefore: "close to the water".

They lived south of what is now Hoover Dam along the Colorado River.

Although Arizona was part of the Spanish colonies in America, only a few missionaries and silver seeking explorers (Antonio de Espejo in 1583 and Juan de Oñate in 1598) visited the area during the 1600s and 1700s. Mexico received it from Spain after its independence in 1821 but lost it to the U.S. during the 1846-1848 War.

In 1851, the U.S. Government commissioned Capt. Lorenzo Sitgreaves on an expedition to the area. The pass used by Route 66 across the Black Montains is named after him.

Lt. Edward "Ned" Fitzgerald Beale also surveyed a route along the 35th parallel from Fort Smith in Arkansas to California. His route took him to what is now Needles, CA.

This opened the way for settlers who used these trails to reach California. Among them was the Oatman family.

Johnny Moss found gold in the Black Mountains near Oatman in 1863 but chose instead to mine silver in the Cerbat Mountains. It was not until the railroad arrived in 1883 that mining took off; initially north of Kingman.

The Name: Oatman

The Oatman family, from Illinois, was attacked in Arizona by the Tolkepayas (Western Yavapai) or Apaches in 1851. Only Olive Ann Oatman (1837-1903) and her sister Mary Ann -who later died of hunger- survived.

They were sold to the Mohave Indian band of Chief Espaniol, for two horses, beans, and three blankets. He took care of them and included them in his household as domestic slaves.

16 year old Olive had her face tatooed with blue ink as was the native's custom. She was freed after five years of captivity.

She later wrote her memoir telling her story.

The Atlantic & Pacific Railroad (later the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad) reached the area in 1882 but went around the Black Mountains along the flat Sacramento Valley to the east and south of them.

Gold was re-discovered north of Oatman in 1901 at Goldroad and this led to the construction of better roads both west (to Kingman) and east (to Needles and Topock).

Ben Taddock strcuk gold in Oatman in 1902 and filed a claim. A tent city sprung up to cater to the prospectors who rushed in.

Taddock sold his claim which was acquired by the Vivian Mining Co. so the little town was named "Vivian".

Three million dollars of gold were mined between 1904 and 1907 and in 1909, the town changed its name to Oatman.

Just as the Vivian mine was about to close, Tom Reed discovered another vein in 1910 and the United Eastern Mining Co. struck gold again in 1915.

They were the largest gold mines in the US at that time, and population reached 10,000 during that period.

Tom Reed Mine, Then and Now

A view of Tom Reed min in a late 1920s early 1930s postcard. Notice the white colored tailings on the right.

Ancient postcard showing Tom Reed mine in Oatman, Route 66,  Arizona
"Old" postcard of Tom Reed mine, Oatman, Arizona, by

View of the Tom Reed Mine nowadays:

The Tom Reed mine as it appears today in Oatman AZ
View of Tom Reed mine today. Google
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View

Naturally, when the National Old Trails Highway (N.O.T.) laid its route from California to Kansas, it chose the road through Oatman. It reached the town in 1914. The The 1920s N.O.T. guide mentioned that it had "Stores, hotels, garages and camp grounds.. the largest undeveloped gold mining field in the U.S.".

The gold was running out and United Eastern closed operations in Oatman in 1924. But fortunately Route 66 was aligned along the N.O.T. in 1926, bringing income from motorists travelling along it.

During World War II, the U.S. Government closed the mines to use the workforce in other mines producing metal needed for the war effort.

By 1952 mining had dwindled so the Route 66 alignment through Sitgreaves Pass and Oatman was no longer needed. It was replaced by a new one, that ran along level ground, through Yucca.

The town became a ghost town but recovered during the 1990s as a new wave of tourists flocked to the "old Route 66".

Where to Stay in Oatman

Accommodation close to Oatman:

>> Book your Hotel in neighboring Kingman

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Motels and Hotels close to Oatman Arizona

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>> Check out RV campgrounds near Oatman (also check Topock, Kingman and Needles)

 
Latest Oatman, Arizona, weather
Route 66 and Oatman, AZ location
Location of Oatman on Route 66

Oatman's climate is high-desert, which is arid, dry and thanks to its altitude, cooler than the low lying terrain close to the Colorado River.

Winters and summers are cooler than those of neighboring Laughlin, NV or Needles, CA.

Snow ocassionally falls in winter with some 2 inches (5 cm) per year. Rainfall is scarce, only 7 in. of rain (178 mm).

Temperatures during the year: summer average high (Jul) 104°F (40°C) and summer low 76°F (24.4°C) Winter average high (Jan) is 56°F (13.3°C) and a winter low 33°F (-0.6°C).

Tornado risk

Oatman is located well to the west of the Rocky Montains therefore there are virtually no tornados there.

Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
 

Getting to Oatman

You can reach the town driving along Historic Route 66 in Arizona from Kingman in the east or Topock in the west. Or via I-40, and also from Las Vegas, Nevada, by US 93 or 95

Map of Route 66 through Oatman Arizona

Static Map showing Route 66 alignment through Oatman, AZ

Map of US 66 in Oatman AZ
Map showing Route 66 in Oatman, AZ, by

Display Oatman Route 66 Map


  Click Map will appear below
 

The map above shows several alignments through Oatman, the color key For Oatman only is the following:
(for the other parts of the map, check the color key of the map of the corresponding city)

Pale Blue: Driveable 1926 to 1952 Route 66 alignment.

Google Maps. Terms. Nicolas Mollet, CC BY SA 3.0 License

Route 66's alignment in Arizona: the Historic Route 66 through Oatman

Route 66 logo

Route 66 across Arizona

U.S. Route 66 was been designated an All-American Road and National Scenic Byway in the state of Arizona.

The section of Route 66 that runs from Seligman, goes through Oatman, and ends at Topock on the California state line is the longest remaining section of Route 66 in the entire U.S.A.

Click on the following link for a Full description of Route 66 across the state of Arizona.

Below you will find plenty of information on The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway in Oatman

Sights and Attractions in Oatman, Arizona

What to Do, Places to See

A Far West Mining Town

Oatman, a gold mining town of the old Wild West, is in the Black Mountains on Route 66, close to Sitgreaves Pass and Goldroad, a Mining Ghost town. Drive the The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway visit Cool Springs and enjoy Oatman's Gunfights and Burros and its historic Durlin (Oatman) Hotel

Oatman burros and mining town

Route 66 is the town's Main Street. Park your car and take a stroll, it is only 0.4 miles from one tip of town to the other.

You will notice the donkeys roaming about, they are the famous "Burros":

Burros

The word "Burro" (plural: Burros) is the Spanish name for a donkey (don't mistake them for similar looking mules or asses, which are cross-species hybrids between mares and jackasses). They were used as pack animals to carry goods in tricky terrain, especially in the mountains.

Oatman has many "wild burros", and they roam about freely. You will see about 10 or 12 of them in town, wandering around.

They are protected by the Bureau of Land Management so Don't feed them, you will be fined. They look tame but don't fool around with them either.

The town's burros and those living in the mountains as wild herds, were brought to the area by the gold miners to use them as pack animals to move out the ore. When the mines closed, the burros were set free and they took to the hills.

Burros in Oatman, on Route 66.

wild donkeys - burros in  Oatman, Route 66,  Arizona
Burros roaming free on Main St., Oatman, Arizona, by

The Old Town

Sidewalk Egg Frying Contest!

Frying an egg on the sidewalk under the searing midday sun is one of the fun things to do in Oatman, and part of the July 4th celebrations too.

Glory Hole saloon building in Oatman

The old Glory Hole Saloon in Oatman. Perla Eichenblat.

The Oatman Ghost Rider Gunfighters

As could be expected in a roudy mining town of the "Old Wild West", there were plenty of gunfights in Oatman.

And there still are! A Gunfighter organization has daily shootouts in the streets daily (1:30 and 3:30 PM). Show Times may vary due to weather or special events.

Although most of the town burned to the ground during the 1921 fire, some buildings survived. Check the "Glory Hole" which despite its name is a venerable site:

Glory Hole

Main and Oatman Topock Hwy.

On the southern side of town. At one time it was a Saloon, a Soda Fountain, Drugstore and Sundries shop.

And it is still standing as you can see in the photograph and in the set of "then & now" photos below. The Honolulu Club and Shell garage to the right has long gone, but its foundations can be seen under the current building. The Arizona Hotel has also been lost.

Glory Hole Then & Now

A 1951 photograph of the Soda Fountain and the now gone Honolulu Club and Arizona Hotel.

Soda Fountain in 1951, Oatman, Route 66,  Arizona
1951 photo showing Arizona Hotel and soda fountain, Oatman, Arizona, by

View of the same spot today:

Former Soda Fountain today is the Glory Hole, Oatman AZ
View of the Soda Fountain today, the Arizona Hotel has gone.
Static Image by Google Street View
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View

Head up Main Street and visit a Historic Site:

The Durlin Hotel

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

181 Main Street

Oatman Hotel Sign

Oatman Hotel sign. Austin Whittall.

The hotel was renamed in the 1960s as the Oatman Hotel. It was originally named after John Durlin, who built it in 1902, but razed by the 1921 fire that destroyed most of Oatman's buildings.

It was rebuilt in 1922 as a two story adobe structure, with eight rooms.

Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon here in 1939. Dont's miss the hotel's saloon with its walls and ceilings papered with signed one-dollar bills, a practice that began with the miners, who signed and affixed their money so they could use it when they were short of funds.

Tours and Nearby places to visit

The Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway

Back Country Byway

Back Country Byway sign on Route 66

Back Country Byway sign. Austin Whittall.

This section of Route 66 from Kingman to Topock has been designated a Back Country Byway, within the BLM (Bureau of Land Management).

The road is legally accessible by any vehicle under 40 feet in length. The part of the road passing through the mountains is a very narrow two-lane with no shoulders, extremely tight switchbacks and many steep drop-offs. Wide vehicles and vehicles over 30 feet in length should use extreme caution when driving this road.

Read more at the Official BLM website By clicking you will leave our Website. Come back soon!

The Road from Kingman to Oatman

Leaving Kingman

Until the early 1940s, the road left Kingman along 2nd St. southbound. It ran to the east of the later alignment, now sandwiched between the tracks (See map). Later the road was realigned and imporved, taking another course until 1979 when it was bypassed by I-40 (See map).

Jack Rittenhouse drove along Route 66 in 1946, collecting information which he included in his book "A Guide Book to Highway 66", a great resource for those keen on learning more about US 66 during the post-war period. Oddly, Rittenhouse describes this 5 mile segment from downtown Kingman to McConnico as "Sitgreaves Pass" (which in fact is located on the summit of the Black Mountains).

All alignments met at Cook Canyon and continued southbound. Close to Exit 44, Route 66's 1926-1952 roadbed headed west and continued (now buried under I-40) to the other side of the interstate. You can drive it on the western side of I-40 by crossing the highway at Exit 44 at McConnico.

It is here that the Historic Route 66 Back Country Byway begins. You can now follow it all the way to Oatman, for 23.3 miles. (See map), and from there to Topock

In 1952, the Topock - Oatman - Kingman alignment was replaced by the one that passed through the town of Yucca in 1952. This newer alignment met the Kingman section just north of Exit 44.

Across Sacramento Valley

West of Kingman and to the east of the mountains lies the Sacramento Valley. An intermittent stream (Sacaramento Wash) flows occasionally along its sandy bottom meeting the Colorado River at the Topock marsh area.

The railroad and I-40 opted for this more level route to reach California. While Route 66 followed another course, across the Black Mountains.

Black Mountains

They are a mountain range that was formed some 15 to 20 million years ago when lava flowed thickly over a base of Precambrian granite.

They run with a north-south alignment and measure 75 miles long (121 km) and some 10 mi. wide (16 km). The highest point is Mount Perkins with 5,456 ft. (1.663 m).

Route 66 was built across the Black Mountains instead of following the route adopted by the railroad, which had easier gradients because it followed the National Old Trails highway which in turn was used to move ore out of the mines at Oatman and Goldroad.

The steep climb from east to west began at the foot of the mountains at 2,268 ft. and climbed up to Sitgreaves Pass (3,595 ft) over a distance of 9 miles. West of the pass, the road then dropped into Oatman, falling 915 ft. in a winding course along 4 miles.

Towards the Black Mountains

Burro road sign on Route 66 near Oatman

Watch out for Burros. Perla Eichenblat.

Not much has changed since the days of Rittenhouse, who mentions a gas station on mile 8 (from Kingman) -gone- an abandoned "Fig Springs Camp" at mile 18 -gone- at the point where the Gold Hill Grade climb begins, the climb to Sitgreaves Pass, which Rittenhouse calls "Gold Hill Grade".

Gold Hill Grade

It was the steepest gradient along the whole of route 66, with hairpin turns and an even steeper grade on the western side. Rittenhouse suggested that the westbound driver "should... keep his car in second gear going down".

On the way up US 66 passed by Cool Springs Camp (mile 23) with some cabins and gasoline.

Cool Springs

Originally established by Floyd and Ada Spidel in the 1940s, it is 20 miles west of Kingman. (Map with directions).

During the golden days of Route 66 it was a stop on the road before facing the tough winding climb across the Black Mountains towards Sitgreaves Pass.

It crumbled into disrepair when traffic fell off in 1952 when Route 66 was realigned through Yucca.

Purchased in 1997 by Ned Leuchtner he restored it to its former appearance and reopened in 2004. Stop at its gift shop and get some great views of Squaw tit mountain behind it.

A view of the rebuilt Cool Springs Gas Station

The Cool Springs Station near Kingman AZ
A view of the Cool Springs Gas Station, Austin Whittall
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View
US 66 shield on the tarmac

There is a great US 66 shield painted on the road in front of the gas station, so don't forget to take a photograph.

One mile west is Ed's Camp which in Rittenhouse's time had fuel and was established on the N.O.T. in 1919 by "Ed". (Street View).

As the road climbs, you will notice some steps cut in the rock, on the left side of the road, in the middle of a curve: Shaffer Fish Bowl Springs. See the Street View. Park (with care) and go up the steps to the "fish bowl". A spring in the dry mountains.

Sitgreaves Pass

3,595 feet

During Rittenhouse's time there was another gas station and ice cream parlor at Gold Hill Summit (Sitgreaves Pass) (mile 27), on the summit, now there is ample parking space on both eastern and western sides of the pass.

At 3,595 ft (1.096 m) it offers a great view east and west. Park and enjoy the scenery.

Sigreaves Pass on Route 66

Sitgreaves Pass on Route 66 in Arizona
Sitgreaves pass and sign. Perla Eichenblat

After the pass, the road descends with a constant grade and plenty of curves. Then, there are some sharp hairpin curves:

1929 postcard of a hairpin bend on Route 66 in Goldenroad

1929 postcard of a hairpin bend on Route 66 in Goldenroad, Arizona
1929 postcard of a hairpin bend on Route 66, Goldenroad, Arizona, by

The same hairpin bend nowadays:

See how the hairpin bend looks today, Goldenroad AZ
The hairpin bend on US 66 nowadays, as we drove it. Perla Eichenblat
Click on image for Interactive Google Street View

Goldroad

Mining Ghost Town

The road winds downwards, and two miles west of the sumit, it had "garage, no cabins, cafe or other facilities here". It was a mining community in those days, with 718 residents.

As an interesting remark, he noted that there was a tow truck that would haul those whose vehicles could not make it up the road, eastbound; they charged $3.50.

Now it is abandoned, with the ruins of some buildings visible among the bushes, it is a real ghost town. Although mining is still going on in Goldroad, it is private property so please don't trespass.

Jose Jerez discoverd gold there in 1900 and dug the first shaft shortly after. He sold it in 1901 for $ 50,000. The mine produced $ 2.3 million by 2007 and closed in 1916. It reopened in 1922 and closed again in 1949. In 1992 the Addwest Minerals reopened it.

After Goldroad, the road took a winding course westwards. Ahead lies the Negro Head mountain. Then it took a southbound course towards Oatman.

To the left, beyond Oatman is the Elephant's Tooth Mountain.

Oatman

The road descended swiftly into Oatman, which in Rittenhouse's day had "Everett Hotel; two small tourist courts; Bill's garage; limited facilities... and the old Arizona Hotel.", he pointed out that its boom days had now ended as there were many closed stores. He noted the "plank sidewalks, old sidewalk awnings".

Onwards to Topock

Beyond Oatman the Route drops with a easy gradient into the Colorado River Valley. Rittenhouse pointed out 3 miles west of Oatman a trailer camping spot on the right side of the road, and 2 miles south, "Water fauced on the roadside... for cars that need water on the climb driving east".

Don't miss the impressive peaks to your left, Boundary Cone and Wirgley Peak.

A burned gas station 2 miles ahead, on the left. He mentions the volcanic rocks in the area and finally, the willows along the Colorado River, when the road reaches Topock.

Topock

Topock , at mile 58 from Kingman, had "Gas; grocery; few cabins; garage for light repairs; limite facilities". Then came the steel Colorado River bridge and in its midpoint the Arizona California State Line.

The Alignment of Old Route 66 from Kingman to Oatman

route 66 shield Arizona

We have already described the itinerary (above).

 

> > See the previous segment Williams to Kingman

> > See the full segment Topock to Kingman

> > See the next segment Topock to Needles

Outdoors, National and State Parks

In our Kingman and Topock pages we describe the parks in the area (Hualapai Mountain Park, Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and Grand Canyon Skywalk).

The Black Mountains around Oatman are part of the Mount Nutt Wilderness Area (north of Goldenroad) and Warm Springs Wilderness Area, east and south of Oatman.

Sources

Special thanks to www.66postcards.com used under Fair Use.

Image Used as per Google Street View Image Api.

Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.

Historic Route 66 in Arizona All-American Road, National Scenic Byway, www.fhwa.dot.gov.

Banner image: Dead Man's Curve, Laguna New Mexico by Perla Eichenblat.