In keeping with our “Social Distancing” interpretation, we figured if we drive on an old, almost forgotten road, we will see nobody and not talk to them either. So we set out on the longest stretch of original Route 66 – a very narrow, curvy road through some really magnificent mountains. This stretch was considered so treacherous back in the day, many folks were afraid to drive it, and either hired locals to drive their cars for them, or to tow their cars – which sounds far scarier to me than driving it yourself! But I’m guessing in 1930 cars weren’t as reliable as we take for granted today… brakes failing, engines overheating, and maybe even steering precision being somewhat sloppy. All those would add adventure but possibly detract from the majesty of the views.
We saw a few more vehicles than I’d expected… Some obviously having fun…
Others evidence of the road hazards mentioned above. (These are 3 separate cars… I’m not sure why statistically orange is such a dangerous color)
The road also passes a few mines and remains of buildings.
This must be the perfect time of year for wildflowers – the hills are showing lots of green, and there are loads of colorful flowers.
As I was looking for a good angle for flower pictures, I almost stepped on this cute little guy.
When the road was being created in the ’30’s, finding water was very important, not only for people, but their animals and cars. A man named Shaffer noticed water seeping from the canyon wall, and built a little basin out of nearby rocks. It filled with water, and folks added goldfish to keep the algae down. Over the years it has frozen or dried out, but people keep adding goldfish to maintain the tradition. The trail up to the Goldfish Bowl is marked only by the stairway cut into the rock. There is a closer view in the little movie at the end of this lengthy blog… (Can you handle the suspense?)
Oatman is now pretty much a ghost town. Due to the virus, there are only a couple of eating establishments open. Lots of touristy souvenir shops and the hotel are closed. There were a surprising number of people there (And we didn’t talk to any of them… am I supposed to be proud of that??)
This is the site of the Arizona Hotel. In 1915 it was one of seven hotels in Oatman. It had 45 rooms and extensive fire protection features. That helped it survive the 1921 “Great Fire” that burned most of the other end of town. However in 1950 it was torn down to reduce property taxes… So now all you see are a couple of walls and the original vault.
The town and this “Restaurant & Ice Cream Saloon” are named for Olive Oatman. Her family was crossing through in the mid 1800’s, when they were attacked by Indians. The adults were killed, and the two daughters were taken as slaves. The young son was left for dead. After 5 years, the army learned of her situation and arranged for the 19 year old girl’s return. She had been tattooed with black marks on her chin. This is pretty much how the story was told at the time, by her and an author writing her story. It is interesting that the story has been re-written many times since then, apparently to lessen some of the scarier details. I was planning on writing only about two lines as a teaser to the story, and make you read the details below, but it seems my keyboard is stuck in the verbose mode. Read the story below if you feel like it.
In a ghost town, what would you expect except old inoperable artifacts. Like this old inoperative public pay phone. Remember those?
This hotel supposedly had many famous guests visit, including Clark Gable and Carol Lombard. I sincerely hope it looked better then!
We missed the “Great Oatman Bed Races!” It says they even supply the beds, and across the street from the notice we noticed one.
Lots of other ghost towny things…
There are signs everywhere warning of the hazards of entering old mines. This one had a somewhat more compelling graphic…
Oatman is famous for hosting more burros than people. As we drove into town, we saw one in the road, but by the time we parked and got back to the spot, he’d left town. We saw NO OTHERS in town! Maybe they were practicing their social distancing.
We did see some outside of town…
It was perfect weather for a drive in the desert, and we really enjoyed all the wildflowers.
Near the Kingman end of this old stretch of Route 66, is Cool Springs. A station for food and fuel, it was a major stop in the 20’s and 30’s. After this stretch of the highway was replaced with a far easier to drive road (But less scenic), the Cool Springs outpost died and turned into just another Route 66 ruin. In the mid 60’s it burned to the ground. It had a brief resurrection when it was hastily rebuilt for the movie “Universal Soldier” in 1991. During the filming, they blew it to smithereens, and Cool Springs was a ruin again. Early in the 2000’s, Ned Leuchtner bought the place and has restored the shop to its previous funky glory. The guest cabins are gone, but the place looks much like the original landmark.
Here is the video you’ve been waiting so patiently for. We stopped for lunch, driving out on top of a rise with an excellent view, only to find dozens of memorials or grave markers there. I’m not sure if it is really a graveyard or just a crowded memorial site… but the view was awesome. There is also a bit of video from elsewhere on the road, and of course the Goldfish Bowl.