Burros roam free in Oatman, Ariz.

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, December 19, 2017

OATMAN, Ariz. — Can you stand another story about my recent trip out West?

Tiny Oatman, Ariz., population 128, is a former gold mining town that now counts burros as its most celebrated inhabitants. They wander the main street in search of tourists with bags of alfalfa chips. I saw about 20 of them.

Manure on the street is a fact of life.

Sometimes the burros climb up on the wooden porches of this tiny town that still resembles its Old West origins.

Tourism is the new gold being mined here. Motorcyclists and vacationers zigzag slowly up hairpin curves to reach this remote section of Route 66 climbing up and down mountains to reach this spot near the Colorado River on the edges of California and Mexico.

We saw a car that had run off the edge of the mountain and had been left there, too much trouble to pull out.

There’s nothing here but rocks … and burros.

Burros once were an important part of the gold mining operation. When the gold ran out long ago, the miners left the burros behind to wander the mountainsides.

Now the burros are celebrated. The names of stores reflect the burros and gold: Jackass Junction, Gold Dollar Variety Store, The Classy Ass, the Bucktooth Burro, Fast Fanny’s Place, Hard Rock Annie’s and Oatman’s Outlaws.

A gold mine has reopened not far away. It’s circled by concertina wire to keep out visitors.

Oatman is open to everybody.

I bought a couple of dollar bags of alfalfa, and the burros temporarily became our best friends. They easily distinguish between the haves and have-nots in alfalfa. At the bottom of the bag, the burros moved on.

This was once a thriving place. Clark Gable honeymooned here with Carole Lombard, and you can still see their honeymoon suite upstairs at the Oatman Hotel. Gable came back several times to play poker with the miners.

Gold was discovered here in 1915, and prospectors swarmed in. When the ore played out, they left just as quickly.

When we returned to the car to leave, we had to wait for a long minute until a burro blocking the street decided to move. — Dwight Sparks