Before I get to any of that, first are some pictures for Cousin Shane. He wrote to me to be sure to check out the Santa Fe Railroad engine, car, and caboose on display in Kingman and to think of his Dad, because his Dad loved that train and always wanted to stop and see it. I had already done so—I remember how much his Dad loved trains, so I’ve thought about him a lot on this trip—but this morning, before we left Kingman, we made sure to stop and get pictures. For Shane and John.
Then we were on our way out of Kingman, with our main activity today the drive and visit to Oatman. After a straight shot out of Kingman through some drier and more desert-like terrain, we began the climb into the Black Mountains. I’ve heard from numerous people that this stretch of Road is pretty wild, and they weren’t kidding! My guidebook says that no trucks over 40 feet are allowed on this stretch (and it’s posted), and recommends that large RVs not attempt it. I second that emotion, STRONGLY. I can’t imagine trying to take a large vehicle up this stretch of Road.
I’ve been on some twisty roads in my life, most notably through part of the Great Smoky Mountains and back roads in Georgia, as well as the Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve never seen anything like this stretch of Route 66! Frequent hairpin turns, with steep inclines both going up and coming down. Loops that double back, but with a really tight turning radius...no gradual, graceful turns here, just unbelievably tight turns with a speed limit of 10 mph posted on those sections. No or minimal guard rails (thank goodness for that 6-inch high rock wall...I’m sure that would keep a car from going over!), and precipitous drops to the canyon floor. It was awesome! I told Ken that I’m glad I’m not afraid of roads like that, because they make for some really amazing drives. This was one of the funnest and coolest—I might even say THE coolest—stretches that we’ve encountered.
I hadn’t seen a whole lot in the way of cactus so far, other than prickly pear (and we even have that in Indiana), but today I saw two little barrel cacti up on a hillside. They looked kind of lonely, but they were blooming, so I guess they were doing okay! There were some interesting rock formations along the way, including one that we both thought looked like a face. Signs caution to watch for both burros and big horn sheep, which are occasionally seen on the road. We didn’t run across (or run into) any, but we saw frequent deposits that indicated they had been in the area!
On the way up, we went through a place called Goldroad, where there were gold mines. It looks like they were still mining for something there, and although a few people suggested a tour of the mine, I didn’t see where they were still offering tours to visitors. They may have stopped that. Sadly, there were no good places to pull off on this particularly twisty section, because there were remains of the original mining town from the 1800s. I saw several remnants of stone walls...can you imagine what life must have been like for a miner living in that tiny town in the 1800s?
One of the things we found going up (mentioned in my guidebook, but Ken spotted them before I did) was steps cut into the rock. These went up to what is called Shaffer’s Fish Bowl Springs, a basin someone made to collect the water that seeps from the rock there. It was pretty dry when we got up there, except for a couple of spots of moisture on the rock wall, but looking back at the way we had come offered some amazing views. It was an easy climb, and the view was well worth it! We finally got closer to Oatman, and there were several trailers and small structures (I think they still do mining there, too) on the outskirts of this small town. It was more than a little surprising to cruise into the town itself and see all kind of cars and motorcycles parked, lots of people milling around in an almost carnival atmosphere, and numerous gift shops and snack shacks! Here was this tiny little mining town in the Black Mountains, not easily accessible, and it was just teeming with tourists.
If you’ve never heard anything about Oatman, Arizona, it is famous for mainly one thing: the burros. They are not native to the area, and were brought in to work as pack animals for the mines. When most of the mining stopped and they were no longer needed, they were set loose into the mountains. They managed to survive, but they kind of returned to the town and took it over as their own! They wander around the streets freely, and are protected animals. Every little tourist shop sells food for them, and you can hand-feed them. We saw people feeding them carrots, and that’s what I had always heard you gave them, but when we asked at a place, they said that carrots aren’t good for them (they can’t digest them well, and it makes them aggressive), and alfalfa is what is best for them. She said there was a baby (with a tag on his ear...we had seen him), and you can’t feed him anything at all. It’s sad that there are still people selling carrots in the town. I’m not sure why they don’t enforce that better. It wasn’t just this vendor telling us this. We also heard it from the bartender at the place where we stopped to eat. Speaking of that, after walking Oatman’s one street, it was lunchtime, so we stopped at the Oatman Hotel and Cafe. It was built in 1902, and it is the place where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon. Apparently they liked the anonymity of the place, and would often come for a visit. Clark would play cards with the miners. (Cool!) They’re still doing great business, and we enjoyed our cool amber beverages and our pulled pork barbecue sandwiches. They serve “burro ears” with the sandwiches: potato slices cut lengthwise and fried like chips. Tasty! When things quieted down a bit, we chatted a little more with the bartender, Michelle, and she was a real sweetheart. We asked about whether a couple of the burros were pregnant or just fat. (I had noted that a couple of them HAD to be pregnant, but because they get so much food fed to them, they might just be really fat.) Michelle cracked us both up when she said, “They’re ALL pregnant!” She asked if we’d seen the baby, who was about three weeks old. We said yes, and she said that his mother is the only one who isn’t pregnant. Haha!
She told us that it’s a herd of maybe 15, and there is only one male, but he really gets busy. He’s got a broken ear and is all scarred up, because he has to defend his territory. It was really fun to talk with her and she gave us a lot of good information about the donkeys. She offered to take our picture, and wished us a safe trip. Oh, and for whatever reason, people who come there often write their names on a dollar bill and staple it to the wall. And the ceiling. And the window frame. They’re everywhere, and you can probably see that some of them are very yellowed and old. Michelle said that the oldest one they found is from 1923, and that particular bill is protected in plastic right behind the bar on the wall.
Today was the shortest travel distance of any of our Route 66 days, but it was probably one of the funnest and most interesting. The spectacular views of the starkly beautiful Arizona terrain were just breathtaking, especially for someone like me who has spent very little time in the Southwest. Tomorrow will be one of our longest travel days, about 175 miles to Victorville. Probably no burros, though!