Oatman, the Highway of Death, and More Sponge Cake Candles

contemporary Oatman (above left) and Oatman circa 1915 (above right)

“You should sell your candles in Oatman,” urged a colleague who offered her unsolicited advice in the faculty lounge while I was checking my mailbox.

“I’m not licensed to sell anything in Arizona.”

“But Oatman attracts a lot of tourists.”

“If I sold on consignment, I’d be taking a loss. I’m also not licensed to sell anything in Arizona.”

“You should still consider it.”

I considered suggesting that my colleague listen, understand, and embrace the concept of, “No, I do not want to sell anything in Oatman.” Choosing tact and prudence over potentially hurting her feelings, I chose not to say anything and to walk away.

Oatman is a tiny village on a small plateau in the Black Mountains of Mohave County in Arizona. It started as a prospecting claim in 1863. The discovery of gold in 1915 started the last gold rush in the state. During its boom years from 1915-1917 as many as 10,000 people lived in this town. After the gold was mined out, most of the people moved away. Today Oatman only has a population of some 43 full time residents. The town is now a popular tourist destination because it’s because it’s an old western town that sometimes stages reenacted gunfights. Prior to the on-going pandemic, an astounding half million visitors would flock to Oatman each year. In addition to the wild west atmosphere, Oatman is home to a drove (herd) of wild donkeys who roam the area. The donkeys are descended from the burros who were once used by miners as pack animals.

Aside from the fact that I’m not licensed to sell anything in Arizona and have no interest in consignment sales through an existing gift shop, the main reason I don’t want to sell anything in Oatman is because it’s only accessible by the “highway of death.”

Oatman Highway is part of old Route 66 and runs from McConnico, a town in Mohave County, Arizona towards the Californian state line by Catfish Paradise. This narrow road climbs the Black Mountains through a series of hairpin turns and switchbacks. There are very few guard rails. On one side of the road are rugged granite walls. On the other side is a sheer cliff that plunges down to the base of the mountain over a distance of two thousand feet. The wrecks of cars that have fallen off the road still litter the valley below.

In the old days some locals earned a living by transporting cars across the Black Mountains. Since early model cars didn’t have fuel pumps, it was impossible to drive a car up the road because the steep incline would keep the engine from getting fuel. Drivers had three options. They could choose another route around the mountains. They could hire a local to hitch their car to a team of oxen or donkeys for a tow through the infamous Sitgreaves Pass. They could also hire a local to drive the vehicle BACKWARDS so that the engine could continue receiving fuel.

I’ve been through Oatman once and once was enough. While driving from Nevada to an animal shelter in Arizona, my GPS system put me on old Route 66. Once I found myself driving on a section of road known by the locals as the Highway of Death, I was committed to finishing this trip because there was no place to stop and to turn around.

The only good news about this entire experience is that driving this route put me on the right side of the road away from the cliff with a sheer drop. Although the section of road I was on was relatively short, it took an hour to traverse because of the 15 mph speed limit. Even though I wanted nothing more than to get this trip over with, common sense kept me at a slow crawl because it was impossible to know what might lie around the next bend of the road.

While driving up the mountain I met a couple with California plates who were headed the opposite direction. If I hadn’t been driving at a crawl, we might have had a head-on collision because the other car was straddling the middle of the road.

After coming to a stop, I waited for the other car to back up and to slowly inch it’s way past me. The driver was gripping his steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white. It likely didn’t help that his female companion had pulled off her seatbelt and had her head pressed into his chest. The road was so narrow that if she had opened her car door, her feet would have been inches from a drop to oblivion.

At home I’ve continued to produce pumpkin sponge cake roll candles. While making these candles it occurred to me that I could just as easily use the newly created mold to create other varieties of sponge cake. I subsequently recreated the strawberry sponge cake that I had used as a model for producing the silicone mold. I then created a chocolate version.

The strawberry sponge smells of strawberries and cream. The filling was painted on using red colored medium density candle gel. I also painted on a lightly browned exterior.

The chocolate sponge cake smells like chocolate cake. I used undyed soy wax scented with vanilla toffee crunch to simulate the filling.

I also made a blueberry sponge cake. This candle smells like blueberry cake. As with the strawberry version, the simulated filling was painted on using blueberry scented medium density candle gel that I colored a bluish purple.

As an added touch, I added a simulated vanilla icing to what would have been the top of the cake if this were a real cake. The vanilla icing was given a vanilla toffee crunch aroma.

As a final touch, I brushed the top of each cake with a high gloss candle lacquer to give these candles a moist appearance. This water based lacquer dries hard to produce a glossy finish.

There are lots of other types of sponge cake candles that I could make. A lemon sponge with a lemon cream filling would be fun. I could also make pineapple, mango, peach, cherry, or just about any other flavor that I could imagine.

The chocolate sponge will likely remain a one off test model. If I had to do it again, I would have made the simulated chocolate a few shades darker. Since I don’t think that the candle is as visually interesting as the blueberry or strawberry candles, I probably won’t make any more chocolate scented versions.

I have continued to give some thought to opening an Etsy store but since my livelihood isn’t dependent upon selling candles, I’m not in any particular rush to do so. I most certainly will NOT be offering my candles to a gift shop owner in Oatman for consignment sales.

BTW, regarding my one and only trip through Oatman, instead of returning via Route 66, I took the long way home via AZ-68. Although the physical route was longer, it was a lot safer. It took me 38 minutes to get home as opposed to an hour crawling along the Oatman Highway.

Edit: As to why I was on Oatman Highway, I was headed towards the Luv for Paws animal shelter to adopt Buki who is pictured below. Buki is a domestic black shorthair who was brought to the shelter as a kitten with his mother and his littermates. Although the rest of his family were quickly adopted, Buki was at the shelter for six years along with a handful of other black cats. Due to prejudice or superstition, black cats don’t seem to be very popular in this area. Buki has now been with me for 8 years.

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