Saturday, 15 September 2012

Day 17 - A donkey bit my postcards

Our first destination today was a town called Oatman that was rumoured to be the most batshit place in Arizona.  After yesterday we were thinking this town would have to go some in order to achieve this, but ever hopeful we set off. After one quite spectacular wrong turn we found the Oatman highway and drove across the vast wash in front of the Black Mountains in search of batshittery of epic proportions.
Something told us this was not the right road...
Rachael was behind the wheel and her previous rally driving experience was bloody useful as the road was like one of those children's colouring book puzzles where the duck has to get to the pond by crossing a plate of spaghetti. 

They used to drive this road in cars without modern suspension and power steering. Nutters.
Having survived the hairpin bends and loose definition of the term "guard rails" we arrived in Oatman ready to view the spectacle.  It turns out this place was quite correctly hyped as insane.
Oatman was a gold mining town until the 1930s and in it's heyday boasted 10,000 people.  Clark Gable loved the place and even spent his honeymoon with Carole Lombard there.  Route 66 took over as the gold mining came to an end but the town refused to die when the interstates were brought in, and now does a roaring trade in tourism. It's like a wild west town survived - wooden boardwalks outside each store complete with railings where you could tie up a horse.  If you have one of course and there isn't already a car parked there. Only now all the saloons etc sell knick-knacks and t-shirts and route 66 tat.

Oatman's finest tourist tat.
We see what they did there when naming this place.

Aside from the many and varied gift shops which are in original buildings, the town boasts a couple of restaurants. The Oatman hotel where we had lunch serves up Buffalo burgers and the most scrummy and crispiest fries I think I've ever had. The decor of the restaurant is amazing too - the walls are completely covered in dollar bills signed by visitors. Of course we added one of our own so people from the future may come across our travel blog URL as they peruse the walls.  Definitely THE place to eat in Oatman.

An expensive way to decorate a restaurant.
But Oatman's true batshittery comes from it's other residents and I don't mean the lovely people who work in the gift shops and hotel. No, Oatman is home to several wild burros.  Thats donkeys to you and me.  And they roam around the main street totally freely. The whole town is covered in donkey shit and there are signs up telling you to be careful feeding the donkeys because they bite.

A drove of donkeys getting ready to mug the tourists.
Needless to say the place is unusual to say the least. Getting in and out of the gift shops is interesting because they lie and stand on the sidewalks, stick their heads into shops and at one point one of them took a bite out of my postcard bag while I was trying to negotiate my way between shops. I was not impressed and I'll own up to being a little scared of the huge white donkey that was getting pretty aggressive with my postcards. When she took the second bite I pulled my bag away and reversed direction to get back to the street.  Ok so I totally ran away from a postcard eating donkey.  So would you because she was a right moody cow. Rachael immediately dubbed her the Sheriff of Oatman and said I was being brought up on charges for bad taste in souvenirs.  Honestly anyone would think I've bought a lot of tat or something.  Oh damn, I forgot to look for another suitcase today.

Staking a claim on any tourists trapped in this store.
If I stand here long enough someone will succumb to my sad!eyes and buy me food.

Leaving Oatman behind we were reasonably sure that nowhere else in Arizona could possibly top that level of epic batshittery.  This became an absolute fact because less than an hour later we crossed the state line into California.  Most of the borders between states in the US have been passed with little fanfare.  Sometimes they are on bridges over rivers, sometimes just a couple of signs on the interstate or on R66 itself. Mostly when we've found one Rachael has wanted to mark it by trying to be in both places at once but that's ok because we are usually the only ones around. California is special though.  At the California border there is a customs-like checkpoint where you are interrogated by the fruit police.  You aren't allowed to take any fruit or vegetables across the border into California.  We think this is to protect the large agricultural areas of the state from unwanted diseases etc.  I do hope someone has told the wildlife about this rule. It would seem a shame to regulate the humans only for a bear or a rat to ruin things. Needless to say Rachael did not try to straddle the fruit police checkpoint.  We didn't think it would go down too well.

We enjoyed California for a while especially as the road gets dryer and more desert like and we saw actual real cactuses on the side of the road (still none of the Saguaro ones that appear on all the postcards though), but fairly quickly we left it again for our third major detour on this trip and our 9th US state.  Pretty sure we qualify for a set of steak knives now. Heading north from Needles we drove for about an hour and a half to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada which is tonights stop.  Before entering Las Vegas itself we did a slight eastern swerve over to the Hoover Dam.  I've wanted to see the Hoover Dam for a long time.  It's been used as a movie location so many times from Universal Soldier to Transformers and many others and I've long been fascinated by it.  Rachael totally humoured this desire but upon getting there she became distracted by the beautiful interstate bridge that spans high over the river as it flows away from the dam.

The view from the Hoover Dam to the river below and road bridge above.
The lizard basks in the sunshine in front of the Hoover Dam.
We didn't do the tour of the dam because mostly I just wanted to see it in real life and walk across it. After half an hour marvelling at the place we headed for our hotel and my first view of the Las Vegas strip.

We are staying in the newly refurbished Tropicana at the south end of the strip (Las Vegas Blvd).  The hotel is beautifully modern without being overwhelming which is nice because we went down the strip for dinner and a look around and the same cannot be said for all the hotels in Vegas.  The worst offenders we visited were the Venetian and Caesars Palace.  We went into the Venetian for a look around and to see the Gondola ride.  The place is a total nightmare.  The signage for getting around inside is completely useless, apparently intentionally, so that you cover as much of the property as possible and to prevent you from leaving the building before parting with all of your money as well as your sanity.  Needless to say we didn't spend a single cent in the Venetian. Even if the owner wasn't on the right-wing funding shit list, the place annoyed me so much I wouldn't spend anything in there on principle.
Right before we fell into an Adventure LARP - You are in a maze of twisty passages all alike.
The firework setting on my camera came into it's own in Las Vegas.
Crossing over the street we stopped briefly at the Margarita bar attached to the Treasure Island hotel - we had frozen virgin Pina Colada and Strawberry Daiquiri.  I was sorely tempted to climb in to the Strawberry Daiquiri machine it was that good.  Although it did give me the stomach equivalent of brain freeze at one point.

Frozen cocktail goodness - beware the frozen oesophagus.
Next we headed over towards Caesars Palace where we had planned to try their new buffet for dinner.  Apparently since it only opened this week after a huge refit, loads of other people had the same idea so rather than queue for an hour to get in we went over to the Bellagio instead. Trying to find our way around Caesars Palace was almost as much a nightmare as the Venetian. I've been to Casinos before in the US - the Borgata in Atlantic City and the amazing MGM Grand at Foxwoods in CT.  Neither of them was designed so bloody badly that you just want to sit down and cry.  I was very glad to leave Caesars and head into the Bellagio where signage and the world began to make sense again.

Leaving Caesars we walked past several look-a-like characters they have for people to get their photo taken with.  The Mickey / Minnie mouse ones were presumably sufficiently different to avoid legal action from Disney but they looked pretty shabby to me. Plus they were way too tall.  In real life Mickey and Minnie are total shortarses.  I know cos I've met them at Disneyland Paris.
As we were passing the Jack Sparrow character he called out to Rachael "Hey Ariel - what are you doing out of the water?"  Needless to say this made Rachael's day and she's fallen asleep still grinning.

The Bellagio buffet is pretty amazing - so many different things to choose from and everything was delicious.  Both Rachael and I made a point of getting fruit and salad as well as sampling other yummy things. I think our time in the flyover states has warped our taste buds.  Apparently there is such a thing as too much red meat and starchy carbs. We still can't quite believe it.

After dinner we blew a few small bills on the slot machines in the Bellagio just to see what all the fuss is about.  At one point Rachael was about $40 up but that soon reversed and we got bored and headed back to the Tropicana.  Gambling is obviously not a gene that either one of us possesses in any significant way.

Tomorrow we head back to route 66 and start our California adventure properly. We have just over a week left and still so much to cover and I can't wait to see what the golden state has in store for us.


  1. Awwwww - the Ariel comment totally just made me smile, but the postcard-eating donkey made me eeeee-oooooor with laughter (Do you see what I did there? Did you? Did you ??) !!

    Photo's are incredible girlies - can't wait for the slide show when you get home :)

    mwah mwah xx

  2. I would totally be scared of a postcard-eating donkey too! Loving hearing about all your adventures and a bit jealous of all the road-tripping and pancake-eating. :)

    <3 Ash

  3. Hey man, aphids and fruit flies are a serious concern to a large chunk of the CA agriconomy!