Oregon High Desert Ghost Towns

Old car in Shaniko, OR



I go out shooting around my house from time to time, and I don’t consider them to be adventures, just outings.

An adventure to me is traveling to a new place that I have never been before, seeing things for the first time, and of course, bringing out the map book to confirm that the GPS is right. Adventures are few and far between for me. Full-time job, family, little one, house, and property make it hard to escape, even for a little bit. However this year I resolved to get out more, get my hiking legs back, and get the shots I’ve wanted to obtain for a long time.

This weekend I wanted to escape the dreary, rainy Portland, Oregon area and head somewhere where I wouldn’t get soaked, but not spend tons of money getting there. I also wanted something that I could bring the minion (my 6-year-old) and have her enjoy it as well. The result? The high desert of Oregon. Specifically some the old Oregon ghost towns. Shaniko and Antelope.

While both still have a few residents, it is nothing compared to their big days back when there were still wagon trails. Lots of history for my little one to soak in and play about with while I got some shooting in.

I got in touch with another photographer friend of mine with a kid, and we agreed that Shaniko must be conquered! Or at last, captured for our galleries.

Packing my bag on Friday night got me all excited! I kept yelling “I’m going on an adventure!”. I am glad my husband is a nerd as well because he snickered each time I said it. It’s my decompression from a hectic life. I love my life, but sometimes, I need to step away and slow down a bit.

It took roughly 3 hours of almost all highway driving to get to the first stop. Shaniko, Or. On the open plains just south of Biggs, OR in Wasco county. There were signs along the way to visit the Oregon Trail monument in Wasco, but we’ll save that for another time. We were going back in history when there were only wagons.

Shaniko still has the “old west” charm to it. Old stagecoaches, a jail wagon we could lock the kids in, and the old boxy storefronts. In the summer it seems like the shops are open due to more people taking road trips through the area. But in the winter time, all locked up. It does keep the renovated jail open and a small sundries shop, but other than that, you get full access to all the outside of the buildings. There is also a few old cars sitting around offering perfect shots.


We spent an hour or so running around capturing the old church, schoolhouse, and other antiques that were laying about. It was fun, and the girls had a blast.

Old truck in Shaniko, OR by vancouver wa wedding photographer missy fant
Old truck in Shaniko, OR

On our way to Antelope, we drove through a little-wooded valley to find yet another abandoned homestead tucked back there along with a small creek. We marked it on the maps to come back in warmer, brighter weather for some night time light painting.

Antelope is a little different. More people still live there; there was even a small little neighborhood across from the spooky old school.

Have you ever played the video game Silent Hill or seen the movie? Do you get creeped out by old buildings with steel playground equipment, foreboding grey skies, and a constant shrieking sound? That would be Antelope. It felt like the Twilight Zone! There were hundreds of birds in the trees just continually shrieking, which did not help the weird feeling. The whole time I was there I was waiting for the horror movie to start.

It is still in use as a community center, and some modern additions have been made to get up to code. In front of the school is the old fashioned all galvanized play equipment and an abandoned basketball court with grass growing in front.

There were a few other small old buildings strewn across the old town, but nothing that screamed “take a picture of me” to us.

We turned back around and headed back to Wasco.

I knew there was an old farm somewhere along this route that many photographers had been stopping by to shoot the milky way. We kept an eye open and found a promising one when we first headed to Shaniko, noting to stop by on the way back. We pulled into the “driveway” and made our way closer.

After getting the van unstuck from the mud, we climbed out and found that it was the same homestead used in the pictures that have been popping up here and there. A home, a root cellar, carriage house, barn, animal shed, and an incredible old rusty windmill over a filled in well. Wallpaper was still barely on the wall, and there were some remnants of a curtain left hanging in one of the windows. Other than that the house was barren.

No signs were posted to keep out, so we spent about an hour there letting the kids roam as we shot.

Old Farmstead near Shaniko, OR by vancouver wa wedding photographer missy fant
Old Farmstead near Shaniko, OR

We fueled back up in Wasco and looked across the gorge. Ever want to go to Stonehenge but don’t have the money to fly to England? Head to Maryhill, OR!

The replica Stonehenge is built from concrete, but it is made with the same alignment as the original. Plus you can let the kids play hide and seek in this one! It overlooks the Columbia River Gorge and is an excellent finale to the trip.

Washington Stonehenge by Vancouver wa wedding photographer missy fant



Until the next adventure!


Want some more adventure? Check out our camping trip to Forlorn Lakes!

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