Route 66 - Oatman

The remains of Ed's Camp
A little over 1 mile west from Cool Springs is Ed's Camp. Lowell "Ed" Edgerton came to the area about 1917 to prospect for gold, but he figured out it was a lot easier to make a living serving the old Oatman Road  travelers than digging in the dirt. About 1920, he purchased some property along the road and opened a camp where the travelers could take a break, camp for the night, and buy some water.

The first building he constructed was for the Kactus Kafe where people could get a bite to eat. Eventually he also built a grocery store, gas station and souvenir shop. The buildings were all simply built from wood and items he found or acquired from other sites and re-used or re-purposed  For travelers who didn't have a tent or trailer, he charged $1.00 to sleep in their car parked on his property or, for the same price, they could sleep on a cot in his screened porch. If you didn't pay to camp or sleep, he charged by the bucket for water.

Kactus Kafe at Ed's Camp
The area around Ed's Camp became known as a rock hunter's paradise and Ed eventually became a widely known expert in the field of geology. Folks from all over the world came to hunt for precious stones and Ed made a good living just from charging people to hunt on his land.  Even after Route 66 was realigned and Ed's Camp was bypassed, he continued to make his living and kept his establishment open until his death in 1978. Today, most of the buildings still stand, but the site is on private property and fenced off. There's enough room for you to stop beside the road and take pictures though.

The scenery behind you as you near Sitgreaves Pass
Past Ed's Camp is where the road really gets interesting - steep, hairpin turns and sharp drop-offs with no guard rails. Watch out for animals and human drivers and bikers coming around those turns. We only encountered two other cars on our way up to Sitgreaves Pass, but one of them was coming around a blind curve and we came within about a foot of exchanging car paint. Providing even more encouragement to slow down and be careful at one point is the crumpled, rusted remains of an old auto which evidently didn't make a turn and crashed down the side of the steep hill.  Fortunately, upon reaching the pass, there is a small dirt flat where you can pull off the road and take pictures. The view back down the way you came is starkly beautiful.

Sitgreaves Pass
Oatman is an interesting place, but today it is really just a tourist draw complete with fake gunfights in the street and very docile "wild" donkeys looking for a hand-out. It began as a gold mining town named Vivian because most of the residents worked for the Vivian Mining Company. A post office opened under that name in 1903, but the name was changed to Oatman in 1909 to honor a young girl, Olive Oatman, who had been rescued a few years after being taken captive by Mohave Indians in the area and sold into slavery.  Eventually, Oatman became Arizona's largest gold-producing district and for a while had over 2,000 residents. The town's business district had a theater, a lumber company, restaurants, saloons, general stores, service stations and hotels. Upon completion, the Oatman Hotel became the first adobe structure in the county. In 1938, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard got married in Kingman and spent the first night of their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel.

The town of Oatman, AZ.
The mines began to play out in the 1930's and the town began sliding to ghost-hood. The last mine closed in 1942 and Route 66 was realigned and bypassed the town in 1952. By the mid-1950's, nearly all the stores were boarded up and abandoned. With its rustic scenery and buildings, several movies were filmed in and around Oatman in the 1950's and '60's including How the West Was Won and Edge of Eternity.

More recently, Oatman has found new life mostly as a tourist town. There is a little mining activity that has resumed and the old buildings have been refurbished to sell paintings, do-dads, gewgaws, souvenirs, and antiques. The so-called wild donkeys, descendants of the burros brought in by miners back in the day, are accomplished moochers and will even try to push their mouth into your pockets if they think you have something tasty to give, but are holding out on them. None of them appeared to have missed any meals.

Youngest-daughter petting one of the many "wild"donkeys
walking around the town.
I was perplexed to see probably several hundred tourists walking around town when we had only seen a handful of cars on the road all the way in from Kingman. While Youngest-daughter petted the donkeys and fed them donkey food (which several stores sold for a fancy price), I stood there for a while thinking, "Where the hell did all these people come from?" We heard some shouting up the street a little ways and then some incredibly loud gun shots, but it was just the fake cowboy actors putting on a show. The white donkey my daughter had been feeding and petting didn't even twitch an ear at the commotion.

Gunfight actors standing around in front of the
Oatman Hotel waiting to excite the tourists.
I asked Youngest-daughter if she wanted to shop for a while and she shocked me when she said, "No, this place is just a tourist trap. It's not real. I'm ready to leave when you are." We were in the truck heading on down the road 3 minutes later and in the rear view mirror, I saw the white donkey mooching from the next person who had a hand full of food.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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