Wild Burros of the Mojave Desert
Southwestern United States

Along Historic Route 66 - Oatman, Arizona
June 2006
This particular "wild horse" trip has been a desire of mine for a few years, but for some insane reason I could wait no more and dragged Derry and Steve with me out into the Mojave desert in the SUMMER!  Having worked with many burros  over the years and being owned by one myself, I felt it important to take a look at the feet of wild burros just as many have studied the feet of wild horses. Then the question arose...where to find a population of wild burros that one can get close enough to without tromping around for days in the desert?  I found a nearly perfect answer - Oatman, Arizona. Once a thriving gold mining town, Oatman is now considered a tourist attraction "Ghost Town."  The feature that drew me to Oatman is the wild burros that come in from the desert every day hoping to mug the tourists for food.  After the gold mine closed, the  burros were turned loose to fend for themselves.   Today, the burros technically come under the jurisdiction of the BLM, but they are considered part of the community to the around 100 or so  people still living in Oatman. Call me an East Coast sissy, but I did not relish the idea of hiking in the Mojave desert looking for burros I might never find. I am a tree person...I like big trees with big shade and streams full of cool water, especially in the summer!  In Oatman, the burros would come to me!

Unfortunately this sign is not posted in a prominent location and I doubt if many of the visitors to this town ever see it. Additionally, the residents of Oatman sell bags of carrots for tourists to feed the burros, which certainly doesn't help their overall health. Some of the locals, who realize that carrots are not what the burros should eat,  told us that they sell carrots to keep the tourists from feeding the burros candy and potato chips. They figured carrots were the lesser evil.
The sign reads:
Oatman was founded about 1906. By 1931 the area's mines had produced over 1.8 million ounces of gold. By the mid 1930's the boom was over and in 1942 the last remaining mines were closed as nonessential to the war effort.

Burros first came to Oatman with early day prospectors. The animals were also used inside the mines for hauling rock and ore. Outside the mines, burros were used for hauling water and supplies. As the mines were closed and people moved away, the burros were released into the surrounding hills.

The burros you meet today in Oatman, while descendants of domestic work animals, are themselves wild -- they will  bite and kick. Please keep a safe distance from them. Wild burros are protected by federal law from capture, injury, or harassment. Help protect these living symbols of the old west.

Copyright Notice: All images on this page are the property of Cindy Sullivan, Derry McCormick and Steve Dick. They may be reproduced for educational purposes only with appropriate credits given. They may not be reproduced for commercial purposes.

The Environment of the Mojave Burros

Desert Landscape

Stark and seemingly barren, this expansive desert vista has its own harsh beauty.

This is the beautiful architecture of the desert and the home of wild burros.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine how the burros find enough water to survive, let alone to thrive. The burros that come into town can get water there, but there are other bands nearby that never come in.  The Colorado River is about 20 miles or so away and the burros could trek there if need be, but according to stories told by the locals, it seems that the burros don't go there often. We were told a story of a recent trip some of the burros made to the river which required that they cross a highway. As you can imagine it created a bit of a furor with highway traffic! BLM had to come in, round them up, and take them back to the Oatman area and threatened that if the burros did that again, BLM would pull them all out permanently.

When the rare rains come, flash floods are the consequence. Dry valleys such as this one fill quickly and rushing waters disappear just as fast. Steve and I could not resist leaving the dirt road and driving down in to follow this dry waterway - in a rental car no less! After a few miles we realized there seemed to be no way to get back out without the risk of ripping out the undercarriage of our car. We drove a good ten miles or more in nowhere before we found a track barely wide enough to accommodate the car. Our wheels were only inches from the edge of a deep ravine. Risky business to say the least. I think if Derry had been carrying a gun, she would have shot us both!

This is the type of ground the burros travel over in many areas of their range.

The closest thing to a tree near Oatman were these shrubs. We noticed a young jack start eating them after being chased by the mature male attached to the herd - the big jack you'll meet later in this page. It was unclear if he was eating to appear nonchalant to the big male, or if he was stress eating after being kicked out of town! But he wasn't eating them before and that spot it right were he stopped running away form th ebig jack and he immediately turned to eating the bushes as soon as his feet stopped.

My ignorance about the desert certainly showed when, as we drove through one area,  I said to my companions, "What are those weird trees all over the place?" Stepping out of the car and a short hike later...boy did I feel stupid. But we did get a close up look at some very cool looking cactus!

The Burros of Oatman, Arizona

And so they come into town, to roam the main street of Oatman hoping for handouts from the people. Some of the burros are very calm and nonchalant, and some will aggressively chase someone if they have a carrot in their hand.

"Hand over the carrot and no one will get hurt!"

Some of the towns folk put out alfalfa cubes for the burros. In part to minimize the number of carrots they eat from tourists and in part to keep them close to their shops - always a good draw to bring people (and their money) over.

Baby Jack (below) checking us out as we walk into town, you couldn't ask for a cuter welcoming committee. Same baby (right) checking out alfalfa cubes given to his mother.

Mom to the adorable jennet to the right

This old girl was gleefully greeted by some of the town's people. Estimated to be well into her 30's, they said that she had not come into town for several days and they feared she might have died.

This handsome fellow is the jack attached to the herd of jenny's in town while we were there. He only makes an appearance in town occasionally and we were delighted that it was while we were there. You can see the many scars on his neck from defending his "girls." He was not as approachable as some of the others. He would pass near you if you happened to be standing where he was going, but he generally ignored people. We are guessing he comes in to check on his herd, perhaps get some water. He would rest in some shade away from the people, then leave. He is sporting some big strong feet. Bigger than the others relative to body size. There are some film clips of him I will process as soon as I can and perhaps pull some closer views of his feet for you to view.

Burro Humor
We couldn't resist taking pictures - it was so hilarious where the burros chose to rest!!

Old Jenny "parked" by the No Parking sign!

So, maybe if you aren't BORN with donkey stripes you can get them here?

The sign outside of this Chamber of Commerce/Community Hall building
announces a Route 66 Roadside attraction. The red section of the sign reads:

This turn of the century gold mining camp was on the original road
through the Black Mountains and eventually became Route 66.
Burros came with the miners and still roam the streets."

Do you think the burros can read???  Naw!! Well.....?? Hmmmmm!

The Oatman Hotel is listed on the National Historical Building Registry and is the only two-story adobe building in Mojave County.  It is also reported to be haunted by a number of ghostly guests.

On March 29, 1939 Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their wedding night at the old hotel after having been married in nearby Kingman, Arizona.  
Over the years, the old hotel carried a number of names but was changed to the Oatman Hotel in the 1960s. The hotel is filled with memorabilia of the past and the Gable/Lombard Room has been refurbished to the period that they were there.

The Oatman Hotel is one of the biggest attractions of the small village as the word of its many mischievous ghosts has spread far and wide.

From the web site http://www.legendsofamerica.com/AZ-OatmanHotel.html

It seems that one very alive individual would like to check in!
We noticed this spotted girl peering into an open window,.
HELLOOOOOO! Service please!!!!

Burro Hooves
Bear in mind that some of these burros spend much of each day wandering the streets of Oatman, teasing carrots  from the hands of visiting tourists. In the evening they head back out into the desert. Some of these burros only come to town on occasion. In spite of the unnatural diet of carrots and alfalfa cubes, even the fattest burros had amazingly beautiful feet and all appeared sound.
Baby feet

This young jennet still sports the remnant of her "foal tip"
Foot of one of the jennys as she moved away and avoided contact. She is the one pictured at the very top of the page.
A closer look at the fat paint jenny

You would think that her feet would be showing signs of impending laminitis...not so.

While threatening to bite me the whole time,
one jenny finally allowed me to hold up her foot for a picture.

Steve was also successful in teasing another jenny into picking up a foot.

Submitted by Jeff Frame (see Central Asian feral horse page)
Wild burros in the Mexican scrub desert. I really like this picture which
was taken just south of Real de 14 in central north Mexico.

As usual, I haven't yet had time to go through all the images and video from this trip.
But for those of you interested in what wild burro feet look like...this will give you a good start!


Barrier Island Wild Horses Eastern U.S.  -  Prairie Wild Horses  -   Wild Horses on the Moor, U.K.  -  New Zealand Wild Horses
Virginia Wild Ponies  -  Wild Burros -
Wild Horses of Central Asia