A Road Trip into the Old West

Chloride - Route 66 - Oatman

If the whirlwind of slot machines, gaming tables and shows grinds you down during a trip to Las Vegas or Laughlin, Nevada, you might want to take an easy day’s drive over into Arizona for a change of pace. Within a few hours, you can visit two quaint old towns – Chloride and Oatman – from the mining days, and you can drive a spectacular stretch of Historic Route 66.

Laughlin, Nevada on the Colorado River

Recently, my wife and I did exactly that. We started the trip from the river town of Laughlin, Nevada at the southern tip of the state. I had spent the early morning exploring Lake Mohave, on the Colorado River. My wife had spent her time at the slots at the Riverside Casino. I caught up with her at about 10:30 am. I grabbed a few minutes to play some craps. I thought I would make some quick money to pay for our drive. I lost $20.00. We got into the car and headed east, into Arizona.

Boat moving the guests between the hotels in Laughlin.

We drove first to Chloride, about 20 miles north northwest of Kingman, on a turnoff a few miles east of Federal Highway 93. Chloride was founded in 1862, when prospectors discovered silver in the surrounding hills. At its peak, it had more than 75 mines in operation. Its population reached its high of 2,000 in 1920.

Chloride Historic Mining Town Sign

Chloride, Arizona

There are still a few mines in operation today, but basically Chloride has now become a peaceful haven for artists, writers, musicians, tourists and retirees. It has a few shops, with flexible hours, where artisans can sell their crafts.

Rocks painted by the artist Roy Purcell in 1966.

You will discover that, unfortunately, you can’t buy some of the community’s most well known art. The famous Purcell Murals, which Roy Purcell painted back in 1966, are not on canvas, but on boulders in the hills near Chloride. Purcell was a prospector with more time and talent than gold prospects, so he took up the brush and produced a number of intriguing images on stone surfaces. Purcell paintings now reside in the collections of famous people such as Clint Eastwood and the late Dale Robertson, as well as in the collections of major international corporations like Dow Chemical and The Royal Bank of Canada. His murals at Chloride have held up well since he painted them almost four decades ago. The colors remain vibrant and alive to this day. You’ll have to drive about a mile and a half on a dirt road to find them. They are well worth the effort. Take a camera.

Old truck in Chloride

While you’re in Chloride, spend a little time driving around the community. Some residents have turned their household junk into lawn art. Others have turned their lawns into household junk art, with old appliances and domestic detritus littering the grass. Apparently, you make whatever you want to of your home in Chloride. It speaks of an earlier, simpler time.

Shopping in Chloride

Chloride has a small RV park with facilities for overnight stays, and we discovered that we could have a good late lunch at Sheps Yesterdays Restaurant.

Sheps Yesterdays Restaurant

 

After we ate, we drove back to Highway 93, and turned south to Kingman, where we continued south on Interstate 40 to the Oatman Road exit. There we turned southwest, following the Historic Route 66. Built in the 1920’s, Route 66 became the famous “Main Street of America.” It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, a distance of 2,300 miles. Between Kingman and Oatman, Route 66 is a narrow, paved two-lane road that winds through canyons so spectacular that it becomes difficult to keep your eyes on the road. Thankfully, there are pullouts, so you can stop and take in the views.

Spectacular view from Route 66

As we drew near Oatman, we spotted, to our surprise, a stagecoach and team traveling over a dirt road. We had a sense that we had somehow wandered back in time. As it turned out, one of the local mining companies gives tourists a stagecoach tour of their gold mines, an interesting prospect, but an experience that would have to wait until our next trip.

Stagecoach and team run by local mining company for tourists.

Reaching Oatman, we learned that it began early in the 20th century as a mining tent camp. It grew into a flourishing gold-mining center, when, in 1915, two miners found gold, the mine produced over 10 million dollars. Within a year, the town's population mushroomed to more than 3,500 people.

See a short movie about Oatman.
Click above to see a short movie on Oatman

The community was named in honor of Olive Oatman, a young girl kidnapped by Mojave Indians in 1851. After a harrowing captivity, she was ransomed by the United States government in 1856. Her story drew wide publicity, and she traveled and lectured about her experiences.

Oatman

Oatman is rich in early 20th century history. In the early years, it was served by a narrow gauge rail line that ran 17 miles southward to Needles, California, on the Colorado River. Wooden sidewalks run the length of the town. The Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mojave County. It has hosted many miners, movie stars, politicians and other scoundrels. The town is so picturesque that it was used as the location for several movies such as How The West Was Won, Foxfire, and Edge of Eternity. Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned at the Oatman Hotel on March 18, 1939.

Oatman's burros

Oatman still has an authentic Old West flavor. Burros roam the streets, looking for handouts. “Gunfighters” stage blazing battles on the weekend. Shopkeepers offer locally crafted and imported (and sometimes rare) products. Sidewalk vendors sell many handmade leather goods, handmade Indian jewelry and excellent knives.

From Oatman, we drove back to Laughlin, with a brief stop at a Walmart in Bullhead City—a reminder that we live in the 21st century.
More on Oatman

by Jim Bremner

Map of Road Trip


There are other hotels and motels in Laughlin, Nevada with something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list, click here. (Rates, availability and reservations online.)

There are also motels across the river in Bullhead City, Arizona
Click Here. (Rates, availability and reservations online.)

 

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Laughlin, Nevada
Oatman
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