The Rajneesh Ranch Revisited
A Higher Plain

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1269 Guard shack at the former Rajneesh Ranch. CLUI photoTUCKED AWAY IN THE EASTERN Oregon high desert lies one of the nation's newest ghost towns, the former Rajneesh Ranch.

Between 1981 and 1986 a small, desolate valley twelve miles from Antelope, Oregon was transformed into a thriving town of 3,000 residents, with a 4,500 foot paved airstrip, a 44 acre reservoir, an 88,000 square foot meeting hall, and a charismatic Indian guru who owned more than 90 Rolls Royce cars.

The Big Muddy Ranch, situated across Wasco and Jefferson counties, was bought by the Rashneesh Foundation International for $5.75 million. At that point the town was not zoned for anything more than cattle ranching. Regardless, the Bhagwan spent $120 million in order to ready the land for his devoted followers.

The community grew quickly in the early eighties, as followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh poured in from all over the world. When met by resistance from the people of nearby Antelope (with a population of forty in 1980), the Bhagwan's followers steamrolled local interests by buying enough of the town to control the vote. The town's new residents immediately renamed Antelope, which became "Rashneesh" until the Bhagwan and followers were kicked out by the Justice Department in the fall of 1985, at which time the remaining locals voted the old name back in.

Today, at the Antelope General Store (which for four years was known as Zorba-the-Bhudda Rajneesh Restaurant), an ascerbic old man grudgingly accommodates the curious by handing out copies of a hastily scrawled map leading to the dirt roads and 800,000 square feet of empty buildings at what is once again called "the Big Muddy Ranch." When asked what the commune looks like now, with a frown he asks "Do you like abandoned air bases?"

In 1991, the ranch and it's sordid past was purchased for $3.65 million by Dennis Washington, a Montana rancher and owner of the Anaconda Copper Mine. Since then, Mr. Washington has grazed several hundred head of cattle on the property while trying to give it to the State of Oregon, or anyone who can accept a charitable donation. While the State has considered turning the nearly new abandoned town into a labor camp for boys, this use appears unlikely due to local resistance. The Nature Conservancy, when offered the land, had to refuse due liabilities associated with the structures at the site, most of which were built without any regard to safety or building codes. Rumors circulate of below ground tunnels, toxic waste, and undiscovered stockpiles of weapons.

Field Report by Igor Vamos and Melinda Stone