ROUTE 66 – OATMAN, ARIZONA [For Susan Littlefield]
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[On U.S. Highway 66 – The “Mother Road” – 25 miles from the Colorado River and California]
Leaving the Joads and the Depression-era camp behind, I continued west and was soon at the gates of Oatman, Arizona.
Oatman attracted some miners as early as 1900, and when gold was discovered in 1915, the population rose to 3,500. The boom lasted about ten years. Then the mines closed.
Oatman struggled to survive, mainly by catering to the basic needs of the occasional motorist who dared wander this remote and hostile stretch of road. That was before the arrival of Interstate 40, which siphoned what little traffic there was.
New capital and marketing brought Oatman back, more or less. The businesses seem to barely get by, even though many merchants are selling quality handmade products, including Indian jewelry, knives, and leather goods. Oatman is just too isolated.
Oatman has the appearance of a western movie set, and at least three major “westerns” have been filmed there. The Oatman Hotel (1902) is open for business, and it was there that Clark Gable and Carol Lombard enjoyed their honeymoon.
The main attraction, I suppose, are the “wild” burros that stroll up and down the street and the boardwalks. Feeding them is encouraged (as long as you buy your carrots and pellets from a local vendor). The town trades on its main attraction. Storefront businesses sport such names as “Jackass Junction,” “The Classy Ass,” and “Fast Fanny’s.”
Oatman – like all of the little towns along Route 66 – is impoverished. The recession and the cost of gasoline have dealt Oatman and its ilk a hard hand.
Also by Richard Knight
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