Of Donkeys and Asses

Oatman Arizona Begging Burros

I think I’d prefer “ghost towns” if they had more, you know, actual ghosts. I’d be happier still if they simply had fewer living people. It’s not that I generally prefer ghosts to people it’s just that the folks we’ve encountered in such places have been particularly unfriendly. Unfriendly enough to make us long for poltergeists in comparison.

It’s a strange thing, really, because you’d think they’d be happy to see tourists roll into town, almost like carnies eyeing fresh marks. It’s not as if some other industry supports the community. Whatever reason people had for originally settling there is long since gone. Now they survive solely by hawking bad meals and memorabilia to people like us.

In that kind of environment you might expect outsiders to be treated like royalty, or at least like valued customers. Instead, we’re often made to feel like trespassers. That’s certainly the impression we got from the unwelcoming stares and gruff tones directed our way in Oatman, Arizona. In the event we missed these not-so-subtle social cues, a strange welcome sign warning us that all these surly people were packing heat clearly conveyed the message that our presence was, at best, tolerated. 

Welcome to Oatman

Welcome to Oatman

Situated on a portion of Route 66 now mostly abandoned for more efficient thoroughfares, Oatman has experienced a bit of a revival as a tourist destination. Structures built during some long-gone mining heyday serve as t-shirt and tchotchke shops. Wild burros, supposedly descendents from those that once worked the mines, still roam the town. If not for the donkeys, we probably would have skipped Oatman entirely.

We’re not alone, it seems. The town’s website prominently features the burros as an attraction. Oatman, it says, “is host to 40 plus gift and Antique Shops, Gun Fight Shows and Wild Burros . . . (that) make themselves home wandering the streets . . . careful they’ll follow you right into a store.”

Of course the store owners we saw mostly had nothing but harsh words for the donkeys. Well, harsh words and bottles used to spray the animals with what I can only assume to be water. Irony, it seems, is lost on folks who sell “Oatman: Home of the Wild Burro” t-shirts for their livelihood. But then I’m not sure why I’d expect Oatman to have any greater lover for its resident burros than the tourists they’re intended to lure. Maybe I should just be happy that we escaped town without having the spray bottles turned on us.

Oatman Arizona Burro

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30 Comments on “Of Donkeys and Asses”

  1. Nick Rutten January 25, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    You hear about animals like foxes invading suburbs and towns pretty often, but donkeys? That’s new. I’d love to see them wander around in a town, that’s just cool!


  2. K. Bailey Fucanan January 25, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Nice post and interesting observation. I would wonder the same thing about the unfriendliness. Love the photos of the donkeys though, and great title!


  3. Touring NH January 25, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    Too bad the citizens don’t realize how bad their attitude is towards tourists. There are several places where wild donkeys can be found, I’d rather visit one of the others after reading your post. At least the donkey looks friendly.


  4. barbstruestories January 25, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Enjoyed the post. Good thing they don’t call it the grammar capital of the world with two errors in the sign about carrying weapons. If ever we travel Route 66, we will plan to get our kicks in places besides Oatman.


    • Brian January 25, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      Them’s fighten words! LOL.


    • msdulce February 4, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

      Yes! That bothered me, too! Unfriendliness AND bad grammar? No thanks, Oatman.


  5. karinschiller January 25, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Again a nice story of my favourite travel-couple 😉 Did you have any idea why the people there are so rude?


    • Brian January 25, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Hi Karin,
      We’re so honored to be your favorite travel couple. Thanks.

      My theory is that the people who live in places like Oatman do so because they enjoy its rugged remoteness and possibly also its sense of small town community. A constant stream of outsiders interferes with all of that. So while they may depend on tourists to keep the town alive, outsiders are not really welcome. That’s my theory, anyway.


  6. Debra Kolkka January 25, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    I think I will give this place a miss and make the locals happy.


  7. Animalcouriers January 25, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    Ha, great post. Whatever causes them to be rude, it ain’t good for business.


  8. Cheryl January 25, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    I would rather see the donkeys in Custer State Park SD. They are also suppose to be mining decedents and everyone there, including the donkeys, is friendly.


    • Brian January 25, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      Thanks for reminding us about Custer. It was an oversight not to mention their “begging burros” in this article, so I’m glad you did. Here’s our original blog post about that great state park and a photo too:

      Mamma and Baby Burro


  9. mairedubhtx January 25, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Burros, and ghosts, and people with bad attitudes. Oh my! The donkeys look nice, though. Too bad the people don’t seem too friendly for a tourist village. They should know that friendliness is the first axiom of tourism. Oh well. Too bad for them.


  10. fulltimeusa January 25, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    We’ve followed your blog for some time and quite enjoy it. We will give this town a miss. Thanks for the “heads up”. Safe travels and be well.


  11. Betty Londergan January 25, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Oatman sounds grotesque ..happy you got out alive and with your grammar intact. Seriously, at the very least they could make their trigger-happy sign not QUITE so ignorant. “Business’s” ??? Really? They couldn’t just use the plural?


  12. cravesadventure January 25, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Interesting Place for sure! Great Captures:) Happy Friday!


  13. Jenni January 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Great post. I really enjoy all your photos! I loved these. Sorry the people were so unfriendly. It’s a shame when tourist-dependent towns resent the intrusion rather than being grateful for the curiosity that brings travelers and their wallets into town. Interesting culture, all in all. Now I want to go to Custer State Park. 🙂


  14. francisguenette January 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    We made a stop in Oatman not that long ago. The donkeys were fun to see and the guy who sells the stuff to clean you glasses – well it really works. It is true that people don’t go out of their way to be overly friendly but we were OK with that.


  15. heavenhappens January 25, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Fascinating x We saw moose wandering down the streets in Jasper once and we get foxes here in the Cotswolds but I would love to see the donkeys x


  16. Honie Briggs January 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    It’s funny in a sad, ‘backward and we like it’ sort of way, but it is true that residents of small towns all across country have a “we don’t take kindly to strangers around these parts” attitude. I volunteered in a Red Cross shelter once and was met with a rousing “You’re not one of us” by one of the locals. Nice, real nice!


    • Caroline and Rob gap travel January 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      If they have mayoriall elections, I vote for the donkeys!


  17. tootonesbored January 25, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    I’ve visited Oatman twice now. Once on a solo road trip, just stumbled into the place ‘cos I was cruising on route 66 and secondly to surprise my donkey lovin’ good friend Dee with wild donkey’s in the street… which we don’t get in NZ….
    Both times I found the locals no less un-friendly than any group of locals that have to subsist off of the tourist dollar…. in fact they were alot better than some!!
    We rolled into town late one afternoon thinking to stay in the Hotel on the main street, which had closed the previous year, a local store owner introduced us to a guy who rented out lodges (she just waved him down as he was driving thru) and he rented us a lodge that sleeps 12, up the back of town, for the price of one room. It was cleaner and more comfortable than most similarly priced motels that we stay in in the south west.
    We went to the local bar that night and bandied words and tall tales with the locals. Hell, yeah, they were trying to trying to loosen our wallets but when they realised that we we probably as broke as them, it just turned into a great game of tall tale one-up-manship ….
    It saddens me that several people have already decided to not visit Oatman based on this review… I had fun, my girl had fun, if you take an open mind and spend a bit of time finding out about the folk that live there and WHY they live there maybe you’ll have fun to!
    Apologies for the rant… part of my delight in travel is experiencing people who are not like me, if they’re grumpy it quite often means they a little wary of people who expect them to be like THEM!… if you want travel without difference watch the television.
    Oops, still ranting (sorry)…will go for a lie down now…


    • Larry Vanstone January 25, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      Did you to pass the stables and barns where the” wild” donkeys live when they are not doing their parades. I thought that town was a huge rip off. And you’re right, the animals have far more personality then the merchants.


    • Brian January 25, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

      Well, if anything I think the contents of this blog should dispel the notion that our problem with Oatman was one of a closed mind. This post is the 494th we’ve published and I think only the 5th critical one. We mostly have only good things to say about everywhere we’ve been because we mostly enjoy everywhere we go. When we criticize places, we don’t normally do it lightly.

      We’re well aware that the one-off experiences we have in places are not necessarily representative of what most people will encounter. It’s always possible that we just caught folks on a bad day. We considered that possibility in this case. However, the presence of a permanent “welcome” sign warning visitors that they might be shot and the harsh treatment of the burros we witnessed, complete with handy spray bottles that didn’t materialize just for our benefit, led us to believe that what we experienced was pretty typical – which is why we wrote what we did.


  18. morristownmemos by Ronnie Hammer January 25, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    Do the residents prefer wild dogs to donkeys?


  19. earthriderjudyberman January 25, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Sounds like folks who move to the country and then are annoyed by the animals, their smells, and their – uh – open-air amour. If folks want to get away from it all, they should consider they have to put up with the human tourists (and/or the wild animals) that are part of their town’s appeal.


  20. denimfish January 26, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks for the warning will avoid avoid Oatman if I ever pass that way. Then again those donkeys do look cute!


  21. hermitsdoor January 27, 2013 at 6:49 am #

    Sounds to me like the fate of people in a one-industry town: tedium. When your day consists of selling T-shirts to folks passing through and picking up donkey dung, you might get surley. Also reminds me of the behind-the-scenes stories of circuses, in which all the glamor and amusement gets boring when you do two shows per day, and wait 4 hours between shows. As the tourist, you have the option to travel on to other interesting places. They are left selling T-shirts and shoveling donkey dung.


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