At Needles, California, I turned north and followed the signs. Seemingly God-forsaken in the middle of nowhere, the highway narrowed to a tiny ribbon of winding road. I’m thinking, “What kind of wild goose chase did Pee Wee send me on. There isn’t anything out here for miles.”
Suddenly, the road turned left and I began to see odd things, like tinsel and bows and red Solo cups hanging from scrubby bushes. Then a few dwellings.
Then, donkeys, lots of them, lollygagging in a tiny town street packed with tourists. I pulled into the first parking spot I saw. Curiously, Oatman is known for its wild burro population. They are everywhere and have become quite the attraction.
Not really appearing all that wild, several posed for me with their best muleheaded faces.
One even bore an ever so slight resemblance to my sweet Lulu Sugarfoot who was also known for her muleheaded stubbornness. I still miss her every day.
I returned to the car for a different camera lens filter. The herd surrounded me and gave me a butt shot. As I turned back to the car I saw that the herd had been covering for their buddy. A spotted “ass” had nudged into my partially open car door and was rooting through my belongings.
“Hey, what are you doing, get out of there, NOW”, I yelled in a tone I used to reserve for Lulu’s misbehavior. He ignored me. Like a donkey would listen? Right.
Instinctively, I grabbed the animal by the mane and began pulling him out. He backed out of the car and threw up his head showing me one of my fresh-from-the-tree California grapefruit firmly locked in his teeth.
I tried to wrestle it away but he pulled back, sucked it further into his mouth, and bit down squirting it like a citrus juicer on steroids.
The herd gathered around as if this were the plan all along.
When the spotted thief was finished, his accomplices gnoshed on the remains one by one until there was nothing left. Who knew donkeys liked grapefruit?
Disgusted, I left Oatman and proceeded east on Route 66. Twenty-eight more miles of twisting narrowness. It’s amazing to think Airstreams used to travel these roads.
Even though my stretch of the mother road had little more than Oatman and an old gas station, it was an unforgettable side trip. I highly recommend driving at least a small piece of this historic highway if you have an opportunity.
As I headed towards Dewey, I mulled over the lesson learned on Route 66. Never turn your back on a streetwise donkey.