Sunday, March 22, 2009

Visiting the Ghost Towns of Eastern Oregon

It's not hard to find the ghost towns of Eastern Oregon. Gas station attendants and websites give great directions and with any luck, you will stumble upon some you didn't plan to encounter. But visiting them is a must for any adventurous, curious or nostalgic Oregonian.

My roommate and I ventured out to Eastern Oregon this weekend to do just that (find us some ghost towns). What we found was amazing! There are many in concentrated areas, so it's possible to visit a few in one day. We planned on visiting three towns and ended up seeing six.

On our trip, we visited:
  • Antelope
  • Bakeoven
  • Boyd
  • Clarno
  • Kent
  • Shaniko

Just to give you an idea of how easy it is to find the towns, we stumbled on our first find by mistake (note: hwy. 197 is not hwy. 97).

Boyd, Oregon is an easy find. It's just off the main highway on Boyd Loop Rd. I recognized the name from my favorite ghost town site, so my roommate and I took turn-off and in three minutes we were photographing the town which supported 200 at its apex.

After returning to the highway, we continued to Maupin  without a clue that we were lost. Coincidentally it was the first town with cellphone service... so we gassed up and saved as many maps as possible.

The road from Maupin to Shaniko takes you by Bakeoven a small agricultural community with many abandoned buildings lining the road.

After the long and curvy trek over the Bakeoven Road, we arrived in Shaniko. This old wool town was refurbished to be a kind of tourist attraction. Many of the buildings were upgraded and look as if they came straight out of Frontierland. Nevertheless, one of the major owners of the town has closed most of it... so it looks as if this town is going to fade into history again.

About eight miles south of Shaniko is Antelope, Oregon. There are many residents, but the has many abandoned buildings including a jail and an old service station. Apparently the school has been closed since the Rajneesh settled on a nearby ranch. Now the few kids in town have to ride the bus 30+ miles to Madras every day. It's not really a true ghost town, but more like a zombie town with a pleasant, but dwindling, population of 37.

After Antelope, we drove out to Clarno. The drive was beautiful, but the town was disappointing. We expected something like this. But we found out that the entire town is being refurbished. The schoolhouse has new windows and the Grange Hall has been restored. Many sites have removed Clarno from their list of ghost towns due to the construction.

On our trip back north, we happened to pass through one more ghost town, Kent. It wasn't a very exciting town, just a gas station and a few abandoned buildings, but it's right off of hwy. 97 (the highway we finally found).

Going on a ghost town adventure is surprisingly easy and exciting. The discoveries punctuate a peaceful trip through some of Oregon's most rugged scenery. It's also and uplifting trip, because there is economic development happening in Eastern Oregon. It's hard not to pass a wind farm while driving the back roads--a clear sign that there is new life coming to those old communities. Who knew the green revolution would save the old west?

For more information on Oregon's Ghost Towns, visit:

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