The good thing about going to Laughlin, Nevada in December is that it’s not outrageously hot. It got into the low ’70s while I was there, whereas the average temperature in July is a scorching 110 degrees. I found plenty of reasons of head outside during my short visit, and one of them was… to meet donkeys!
Look at him, looking at me like I’m the jackass.
About 30 minutes outside of Laughlin is the tiny ghost town of Oatman, Arizona. It was a mining town that flourished 100 years ago, thanks to a gold rush. The town was abandoned when the mines closed, although it isn’t technically a ghost town, because 150 people still live there, as it’s a local tourist attraction.
It’s a beautiful drive to get there. The mountains are gorgeous. Apparently people from the town decorate the roadside shrubs for Christmas, because a bunch of them were covered in tinsel and ornaments.
All the old-timey wild west buildings along the main street have been preserved, and now they’re all gift shops. The street, Oatman Highway, was part of Route 66, and the town is very proud of that – there are Route 66 signs everywhere. There are gunfight shows and an annual contest where people literally try to fry an egg on the sidewalk – but none of that was happening when I was there, because it was the off-season, and a lot of stuff was closed.
The donkeys, though, are always there. They’re known as the Oatman burros. A burro, by the way, is the same animal as a donkey and an ass. (A male is called a jack, which is how we got the word ‘jackass.’) Oatman is home to dozens of wild burros that roam the streets and block traffic. They’re the descendants of burros that gold prospectors turned loose into the wild, and they’re everywhere.
They’re very friendly and mild-mannered. They’ll just stare at you, motionless, waiting to see if you have any food. I thought the one on the porch was a statue, until it finally moved:
Most of the shops sell cubes of hay that you can feed them. One burro bit my shoe, and a shopkeeper gave me a couple of cubes to feed him, since he was evidently hungry. I’m sure they’re always hungry.
Another donkey blocked the exit from the parking area when I was leaving, and finally moved, only to come over to investigate my car. I took a short little video of what happened next – watch it here.
The burros weren’t the only animals I met on my trip. Earlier that day, I went for a run and met some horses along the way.
Laughlin is at the very southern edge of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area – within walking distance of my hotel. There were some nice trails along the Colorado River, so I took advantage, and ran a couple miles upstream along the Riverwalk Exploration Trail…
…until I reached Davis Dam, which generates electricity for the area.
I then turned inland, and headed up Horseshoe Trail, which is where I passed the horses, and took a trail that dead-ended on a hilltop 600 feet above the river. Nice views from up there!
It was a good run, except it was ridiculously windy. When I reached that lookout, I had to take my hat off, otherwise it would’ve gotten blown off my head.
In total, the run was 5.6 miles, although I walked 1 mile of that. I was exhausted after running uphill, against the wind, so I walked down the hill, and resumed running when I was on flat ground again. It took me 1 hour, 22 minutes, which included a few brief pauses to take photos.
That wasn’t the end of that workout, though. From there, I jumped in my car and headed 20 minutes deeper in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, up a narrow dirt road called Christmas Tree Pass. There’s a turn-off that leads to a tiny parking area, and a trailhead that leads to a very special place called Grapevine Canyon.
The hike isn’t very long at all – just 1/4 of a mile before you reach the canyon entrance. It’s pretty enough on it’s own…
…but if you look closer at the rocks at the entrance of the canyon, you’ll notice they’re covered in drawings made centuries ago by native Americans.
These are called petroglyphs, and they’re actually chipped or carved into the rocks. No one knows exactly how old they are, or what they mean, but estimates range from hundreds of years to thousands.
Grapevine Canyon has some natural springs (although not at the moment, thanks to the drought), and so this area was considered sacred by the local tribes, as it provided water and therefore supported life. The water attracted animals, like bighorn sheep, so it was a good hunting area, too.
It was super cool to see the petroglyphs, and see proof that this barren, desolate area has supported human life for millenium. It’s only a 1/2 mile hike, there and back, and it’s flat, too, although I did a little exploring and bumped my distance up to one solid mile.
There’s another incredible man-made desert landmark in the area, this one much more recent. I found it on an early morning walk, in a flat area in the hills behind the casinos. Four years ago, a local artist named Wes Dufek collected tons of rocks, and created large labyrinths with them in the desert sand.
I love mazes. I draw them and sell them on my Etsy site. So I absolutely loved these. I walked all five of them. Each was a different shape – a triangle, a square, an octagon, and so on.
A labyrinth is different from a maze. A maze has branching paths, leading to dead-ends. A labyrinth has one path that leads from the outside to the center, often in a very specific, almost symmetrical pattern.
These averaged about 20 feet in diameter – although the largest one (the circle one) was significantly larger. I can’t imagine how much time went into making these, and how many people have no idea they’re there, even though they’re walking distance from all the casinos. You can find them off Thomas Edison Drive, southwest of the Tropicana hotel. Look for this little marker along the road:
And I’m not kidding when I say that marker is little – it’s about knee-high.
In addition to the labyrinths, I passed by all nine hotels on that walk, using the Riverwalk that connects all of them. One stretch of the Riverwalk, between the Golden Nugget and the Laughlin River Lodge, was lined with monkey statues that were inadvertantly (or maybe deliberately) very phallic. Hello, monkey!
The walk totaled 4.5 miles. Add that to the run and petroglyphs hike, and I covered 11.1 miles on foot in Laughlin! Not too bad for a 48-hour visit.
Keep it up, David!