Set high on the Columbia Plateau, Shaniko appears like a mirage. As it emerges out of the wheat fields and shimmering heat, it’s hard to believe your eyes. Out here? Why? So you pull over to stretch your legs and explore.
Shaniko inhabits the liminal space between reality and fantasy, town and ghost town. It is technically a “living ghost town,” as it has a population of about 30 people. The town is about six gridded blocks, defined by highway 97 on the western edge. Truck traffic running down this highway to Bend, Madras, and points south provides the only sound. Shaniko itself is silent.
It’s a mysterious place with a ton of history, both old and recent. As you wander the town clicking photos and poking your head into the jail, museum, and auto barn, you wonder if it’s all real or part of a movie set. Shaniko is simultaneously charming and disconcerting. The emptiness feels both liberating and constricting. There are a few businesses: an ice cream shop, a jewelry store, some antiques, a penny candy shop, and a post office in case you need to mail anything. The historic Shaniko hotel has been closed for a few years but is still cuts an imposing figure in the center of town, which adds to the air of emptiness. The atmosphere is difficult to describe; you have to experience it for yourself. Shaniko is well worth a stop, and if you spend any time in Eastern Oregon you will inevitably stumble upon it. Spend a bit of time wandering and taking in the sights. Let Shaniko reveal itself to you and fill in the rest of this narrative.