Things to Do in Gold Country
The small town of Oatman, Arizona, is a hidden jewel of the American Southwest. Located in the Black Mountains of the Mojave Desert, the town is a remnant of the gold mining age when two prospectors found $10 million worth of gold in the hills, bringing 35,000 people streaming into the once-tiny region. Today, Oatman is a tourist destination that has preserved both its century-old buildings and its atmosphere of quaint Wild West authenticity
A Piece of History
Oatman was already long settled in 1915 when two miners won the desert lottery with their discovery. From there, the town exploded, drawing fortune hunters and celebrities alike. It is said that Clark Gable was an avid fan of the region and frequently stopped by for card games and camaraderie, even staying in Oatman on his honeymoon with Carole Lombard in 1939. Their honeymoon suite in the Oatman Hotel is still a major attraction.
The town was named in honor of Olive Oatman, a young woman who was captured by local American Indians in the 1850s and lived with several tribes for five years. She was eventually returned to the town, having been adopted into a tribe and given a customary facial tattoo. Her capture and her family’s massacre are immortalized in the name of this tiny ghost town.
After a fire in the 1920s consumed many of the town’s buildings, the population dwindled. The once-prosperous Oatman became a ghost town, but its lively history makes it a major tourist attraction even a hundred years later.
Burros Make the Town Theirs
With only a small number of year-round human inhabitants (not counting “Oatie” the ghost, the spirit of an alcoholic Irishman who is said to haunt the historic hotel), Oatman has a large and unique population: the great-grandchildren of the burros used in mining over a century ago. These days, the burros make the town their own, wandering where they please and enjoying the edible handouts from tourists. When night falls, they turn back to the surrounding desert hills.
Historical Recreations and Events
Local performers put their talents on display even in the middle of the busy street. In Oatman, tourists can watch street-side shootouts and tour bus holdups by local “outlaws.” There are also plenty of events year-round, such as live comedy and musical performances in Oatman restaurants and the annual Independence Day Egg Fry, where locals compete to fry an egg on the sweltering Arizona sidewalk.
Even if you miss one of these events, there are plenty of other attractions in Oatman. Local shops sell everything from delicious food to unique handmade craft projects, such as jewelry, leather work, and stone carvings. There is also a host of restaurants and saloons that offer a cool respite from the warm Arizona days.
On the outskirts of Oatman lies the surrounding desert, full of rolling scrub-covered hills and local animal life. For tourists interested in outdoor exploring, there are plenty of activities available, including hiking, rock climbing, and looking out for the herds of wild bighorn sheep that roam the local mountain range. When the day is done, visitors staying in RV parks near Oatman, AZ, head back to find dinner in one of the town’s excellent eateries as the wild burros head for the hills for the night.
Although the town has been long since abandoned by the many people who came seeking fame and fortune, this ghost town is far from dead. The unique historical attractions and wild surrounding beauty make Oatman, Arizona, a must-see for tourists who are RV camping in Arizona.