Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is a fixture on Route 66 in Oro Grande, California. The “ranch” is the brainchild of artist, Elmer Long. Elmer began collecting bottles with his father when he was just six years old.
They loved to go camping in the desert together and visit the old dumps for reclaimed treasures. Elmer recalled some of the dumps went back to the 1800s. Inevitably, they brought stuff back home.
Elmer laughed and said, “You can only roast so many marshmallows and hot dogs before you get bored.” Digging through old dumps as a kid became a passion.
Elmer chortled, “One day Dad found a bottle which kept him busy for the next 30 years. I’m not lying.”
Elmer’s passion for collecting glass bottles continued. Eventually Elmer had so many bottles he decided to build objects to display them on. Thus Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch was born about 14 years ago.
Elmer replied he left home in 1964 and joined the U.S. Marine Corps for 4 years. Meanwhile, his Dad continued to collect bottles for another 20 years.
Elmer got married and raised a family. Elmer said, “They grew up and left and Dad got old. One day, I went to visit Dad and discovered much to my chagrin he was giving all his bottles away.” Elmer was able to get some of them.
Elmer said, “I put them out and they looked good. I spent two more years doing this, then decided I was going to retire. I walked into where I was working and said ‘adios.’ I retired at age 55 and never looked back.”
Elmer told us his most beloved pieces are the ones he found with his Dad during his youth. One of his favorites is a handmade pitch fork Elmer found in 1959 or 1960 in a fallen down homestead near Edwards AFB, now at the top of one of his colorful displays. Elmer added he was a Freshman in high school.
Elmer pointed at a horizontal I-beam and said, “Those are all Dad’s bottles. They’re my favorites too.”
Visitors sometimes ask Elmer if his vision was influenced by Miles Mahan’s ‘Hula Ville,’ a half acre located on Route 66 in Victorville in the 1950s. The wine bottle littered land inspired Mahan to hang bottles on nails driven into fence posts, calling it his “cactus garden.”
In early 1996, the Route 66 Museum in Victorville dismantled the major artifacts and brought them to to showcase at their museum, including a 9-foot tall metal dancing Hula girl, which is still prominently on display. Elmer clarified the former Hula Ville and his Bottle Tree Ranch were not related.
Visiting Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is an experience for the senses. Not only are you mesmerized by the colorful bottles combined with antiques in creative ways, but there are soul-pleasing sounds to accompany it too.
You will hear wind chimes, the clacking of an old wind mill, the tinkling of glass and moving metal fan blades moved by the breezes. Elmer has placed hummingbird feeders in the area, so you may hear the buzzing of tiny bird wings as they fly to and fro.
And if you’re there for more than ten minutes, you will also hear the sound of passing trains. The train tracks are to rear of The Bottle Tree Ranch. Trains are synonymous with the Mojave Desert and an undeniable part of its history.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch does not charge admission. The gate remains open from dawn to sun down. There is a mail box on site near the entrance for those wishing to leave tips. Although it is not mandatory, it is always appreciated.
Visually, it’s a busy place. It’s hard to decide which way to turn first. Just pick any direction and head that way because there is no doubt you will walk through more than once. It is a lot of whimsy to absorb.
If you have visited before, you will want to re-visit your favorite displays. If it is your first time, you will have fun deciding which ones tickle your fancy most but it’s quite alright to be fickle. There are many to choose from and one new discovery leads to the next.
We have been coming to Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch for many years, during fair weather and not, at different times of the year and have never been disappointed. We are always amused discovering something new Elmer has added.
Elmer commented he is honored that so many people love visiting the Bottle Tree Ranch. International visitors flock to this unique display seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Elmer’s is considered a destination, not just a roadside attraction. The fact it is located on Old Route 66 makes it all the more evocative.
Sometimes we have Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch all to ourselves. During other times, it is not unusual to hear 4-6 different languages being spoken by excited guests.
Some visitors are making the entire Route 66 trek from Chicago to Santa Monica, while Los Angelino’s are stopping by on their way to or from Las Vegas. Others, like us, just enjoy coming by every now and then to soak up the quirky beauty and to say hello to Elmer.
Elmer and his wife live on the property. Their modest home is located to the rear of Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.
If you are lucky enough to meet Elmer in person, you will find him a very humble and friendly person. Elmer does not mind answering the same questions he is likely asked often. Elmer is a gregarious gentleman who enjoys talking with his guests.
Elmer incorporates all kinds of objects with his glass bottle art, such as mining equipment, tools, typewriters, sculptures, signs, surf boards, and other surprising things, such an entire vintage Jeep.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch proves one man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure. Elmer was recycling before it became a trend.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is a quintessential Route 66 landmark. Its electic slice of classic Americana continues to inspire and awe.
We enjoy strolling through a jungle of bottle trees with its kaleidoscope of changing colors and shapes. This is the place to be for great photo ops.
Elmer’s receives fantastic Yelp reviews. Everybody enjoys Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, and we know you will too.
24266 National Trails Hwy. (Old Route 66)
Oro Grande, CA 92368