The Team

From left to right: Jake Lemke, Kyle Huttinga, Andrew, Sarah, Hattie & Kennedy Hartenstein, Jake, Sarah & Callahan Axthelm, Peter, Kendall, Gus & Hollis Grubb and John & Sarah Gastineau.

Not Pictured: Rich Ellerd, Travis Lucas and Nathan Styffe ​

The Ranch

Muddy Ranch is a part of Young Life's Washington Family Ranch. The ranch is made up of 64,280 deeded acres that surround Young Life's two camps, Canyon and Creekside. Canyon is primarily a summer high school camp but operates year-round and hosts various guest groups. Creekside is the newest of the two camps and operates seasonally as a middle school summer camp.

Muddy Ranch is an operating cattle ranch in the middle of the high desert of Central Oregon. We grow hay to feed to our cows, and also sell surplus hay. We use guided hunting and fishing trips to share with adults the mission of Young Life camping.

Who We Are

We exist to create a place where lives are changed by Christ. At Muddy Ranch, our faith, family, and relationships with people come first. We work to have an environment that creates a healthy balance between faith, family, and work. We believe our work is not a job but a lifestyle for all who are involved. We are a reputable ranch that looks for ways to be a part of our community. ​ We are open minded and always looking to be more innovative.

We steward the land, livestock, wildlife, and water to the best of our abilities, pursuing and maximizing the perfect resources that God created. ​ We are financially sustainable through livestock, hay, restoration, and outdoor adventures. ​ We utilize the ranch's revenue to financially support camp operations to further impact a world of kids. We manage the rangeland to be abundant and diverse, supporting both wildlife and cattle. We practice and pass on western traditions.

Our hope is for our legacy to be evident in everything we do so that all may have a broad understanding of why we're here and what the work is being accomplished for.

History of the Ranch

Early History

Muddy Ranch’s rolling hills, steep cliffs and lush springs are home to elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, coyotes and cougars. For thousands of years this land was utilized by Native American tribes as part of a seasonal rotation. They came for hunting, fishing and for gathering edible plants. Wild onion and bitterroot still flourish on the dry clay hillsides and rust-red pictographs remain on sheltered cliffs. European hunters, trappers and traders displaced game and disrupted Native communities. As European settlements grew, tensions cumulated into the Snake Indian War. Subsequent treaties relinquished land rights to state governments.

​Dalles Military Road

The John Day River was named for the Virginia hunter John Day, who crossed the country in 1811 with a trapping party. Muddy Creek, Currant Creek and Cold Camp were named by Joseph Sherar, a well-known Oregon explorer and road-builder, in 1862. The trail of his and others’ pack trains, winding down the hills from the Dalles to the Canyon City gold fields, was used by the Dalles Military Road Company for its ‘Dalles-Canyon City road’ in 1864. Henry H. Wheeler (for whom Wheeler County is named) ran a stage coach express from the Dalles to Canyon City in the 1860’s. The stagecoach station at the joining of Muddy and Currant Creeks was established around that time and served as a waypoint between Antelope and Burnt Ranch. The present Muddy Road, from Cold Camp through to Burnt Ranch, follows much of the original Dalles-Canyon City route.

Academics and Outlaws

By the late 1800’s the country was attracting significant academic interest. Paleontologist Thomas Condon, naturalist Loye Miller and botanist Thomas Howell all traveled Muddy Road on collection trips. Fossils and plants from the Currant Creek valley are found in university collections across the country. These academic forays took place against a ‘wild west’ backdrop of sheepherders and homesteaders, visionaries and murderers. Gallagher Canyon and Robinson Ridge commemorate John Gallagher and Alvin Robinson, both slain by outlaws, while the account of the Thomas Riley shooting is retold in Jane Kirkpatrick’s novel Land of Sheltered Promise.​

Muddy Ranch

In 1895, Muddy Station became Muddy Ranch, the headquarters of the Hahn family ranch. Smaller landholdings were bought up and the landscape amalgamated into the Prineville Land & Livestock Company. These holdings included ranches along the John Day river and outside Prineville, as well as the present-day Muddy Ranch land. Oregon journalist Addisson Bennett described Muddy Ranch in 1911 as holding at least 12,000 sheep, plus cattle and horses, and rather fancifully “as large as some of the smaller Eastern states.”

​Mercury and Gold

In the 1930’s, cinnabar was discovered in the upper Muddy Creek drainage, just off the ranch’s south border. The Horse Heaven mercury mines and the short-lived Muddy Prospect followed a tradition of mining in the area; the Currant Creek Mining company sought antimony at their Oregon

Queen mine, while gold miners briefly worked veins of quartz along Muddy Creek. Of these, Horse Heaven was the only success until the mine’s collapse in 1958.

​Decline of the Muddy

In the 1950s-1970s, following the development of synthetic fibers and the increase in sheep ranching in Australia, Muddy Ranch acreage decreased from 125,000 to its present 64,000 acres. The Hahn family sold the ranch in the 1970s, and in 1981 it was purchased by followers of the Bagwaan Shre Rajneesh, an East Indian guru.


Rajneesh relocated his followers to Muddy Ranch, renaming it Rajneeshpuram, in the early 1980s. From 1981 to 1985, millions of dollars donated by his followers was poured into housing and infrastructure. The ranch’s several thousand inhabitants lived in tents, A-frames and condominiums, ate in a communal dining hall, farmed along the river and worshiped in an immense converted greenhouse. In 1985 the commune was peacefully dissolved following the arrests of several leaders.

​Young Life and Washington Family Ranch

The Muddy Ranch returned to cattle and sagebrush. In 1991, the ranch was purchased by Dennis Washington, a Montana businessman. Washington donated the ranch to Young Life in 1997, and in 1999 it opened its doors to Young Life kids from all over the country. Canyon camp serves up to 650 high school-age campers in the summer, while Creekside camp, a waterpark built for middle school kids, has a capacity of 350. The camp continues in its ranching tradition, with cattle grazing once more on the rolling hills.​

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