Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Donkeys of Oatman

Ever since an acquaintance of mine reported on her trip to Oatman AZ several years ago, I've had it in the back of my mind to go there one day. Even when I was in Sedona last May I toyed with the idea of driving to Oatman, but had too many great attractions closer by to keep me occupied for an entire week. And that didn't even scratch the surface of all there was to do in that area of Arizona.

So now I'm in Lake Havasu City AZ for the week and Oatman is just an easy drive north from here. I woke up Monday morning and decided that this would be the day for donkeys. After a short run along one of the paved paths skirting the edge of this section of Lake Havasu, I had breakfast, got cleaned up, and grabbed my DSLR, hat and sunglasses, and headed to the car.

The road north out of Lake Havasu City - AZ-95 - is short and fast, slightly scenic, and connects to I-40. 8 miles west on I-40 to Topock, and I got off the interstate and headed toward old Route 66, which would get me to Oatman AZ.

The first few miles of roadway were lined on one side by trees, the other side by mounds of sand and driftwood. The signs along the side of the road warned of the potential for flash flooding and I couldn't help but think that these mounds along the west side of the roadway sure looked like bulldozed detritus from a previous severe flood or "wash out" since this road runs along the Colorado River for a few miles.

Once through the tiny little town of Golden Shores, a sign along the side of the road declared this an historic National Byway: Historic Route 66.



The road is very primitive by today's standards; it follows the "nap of the earth," rollercoastering up and down, over and around each and every hill and mound. Many of the hills are steep, with peaky crests that block the view of what lay ahead until the peak is breached. And then the road might take a sharp right or left twist and plummet down to another low "wash." Signs all along the way warned to beware of possible flash flooding at these low spots. If I took one of these dips too fast, the car's suspension would bottom out and I imagine that if a driver took the peaks too fast, they'd catch some "air" at the top. The road bed is narrow, the edge of pavement having no definitive edge, just blending into sand and gravel and, in many areas, seemingly became one with the sand and gravel where washouts had been imperfectly patched. But it was all fun! I imagined what it would be like to be on the motorcycle on this road and knew that, while it could be a real hoot, I would take it cautiously.



The hillocks became more serious and more twisted and I could tell that I was gaining some serious elevation - from 900 feet at Topock AZ to 2800 feet at Oatman - even though the road took me through some deceptively open terrain. The views off to the left became more dramatic as the road brought me further up out of the desert floor, and the mountains to the east loomed nearer, jutting up sharply as the road seemed to zig-zag around their bases.


Once near the town of Oatman AZ, I began to see droppings in the road. Donkeys? Yep! And here is the sign to warn me of them!



Signs of civilization began to show up in the hills and along the side of the road as I drew near to Oatman. Derelict shanties, abandoned mining operations, an occasional vacant shed-type building. Then, before I knew it, I was pulling into town.


Though I never once saw another car on the road getting there, I could see that there were already a number of cars parked along the main street. There was a large open gravel parking lot just at the start of the little downtown, so I pulled in there, parked, and then marveled at the brand-spankin'-new toilets the town had built right next to the parking area. How convenient!


Camera, hat, and hiking pack, and I was soon on the street and spying my first donkey of the day, a pretty gray one that was walking toward me with great purpose. She/he gave me the once over, decided I didn't have any food on me, and continued on to the next tourist.


I wandered up the street, peering into the various buildings, taking photos, until I came upon a wheel-chair bound woman who was surrounded by donkeys! As I neared, I could see why. She had purchased some hay-like pellets from one of the shops and was feeding them. And they loved her for it!


The donkeys milled about in the roadway, oblivious to the occasional car trying to pass through. I chatted with a couple in a KIA while they waited for the traffic "congestion" to clear. "I bet you never imagined a traffic jam like this one," I said to them, as they waited. They laughed and replied that it was truly a unique experience. I moved into the blocking herd and they eventually broke up their "jam" and wandered toward the sides so that the KIA could get through.

Walking to the top of the hill, near the north end of the main street area, I saw a post office and a sign that showed a really great cancellation stamp, so I wandered back down to the shops to find some postcards to mail off to friends and family. Sitting on a bench in the shade, I addressed the cards and then went inside the post office to mail them. This time I mailed one to myself, too! I kicked myself for not doing that from Hana, Maui last month!

Lots of photo opportunities with the donkeys! They were so docile; one particularly cute youngster followed me around a bit, no doubt with expectations of a treat. The youngsters have stickers on their foreheads warning us tourists not to feed them carrots. Apparently they cannot digest them when they're young.


A few more photos, some petting and admiring, and I was ready to get back on the road toward Lake Havasu City and some lunch. A pleasant way to spend a relaxing day.
See all of the photos here: Day Trip to Oatman AZ

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