Posts From The Road: Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch

Forest: When one arrives at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in Oro Grande, Calif. the sights and sounds can be overwhelming. The colors of the bottles shining in the desert sun and the tingling of the bottles against the trees soon sink in as you survey more than two acres of bottle trees tightly planted around the area. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Singing the Blues: This bottle tree was singing the blues as the wind brings the ranch to life on our 2021 visit. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

By GARY WARREN
Photographer
Formerly of Los Alamos

One thing we have learned as we travel the back roads of America is that for every “bucket list” must see place we visit, the longer the bucket list becomes. We are always hearing or reading about additional sites and attractions that sound fun and interesting.

The U.S. has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty, national and state parks, museums and other attractions, but as we roam the country we love discovering and seeing roadside attractions. These stops could be considered pop art, roadside art, whatever you call these odd and whimsical attractions, we always enjoy stopping and almost always leave with a smile. The attraction reflects someone’s personal interest and passion and the longer you visit and look around these sites, the more you begin to see.

One such attraction is located along the National Trails Highway or old Route 66 out of Victorville, Calif. Just north of Oro Grande, Calif. sits Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch.

Elmer began collecting bottles and other artifacts in the Mojave Desert with his dad in the 1950s. The family lived in the Los Angeles area but often escaped to the desert to camp and search for “treasures”. By 1962, Elmer Long’s dad bought a 1940s era Jeep that the two would use on their escapes. Over the years the two collected thousands of bottles and other items from various desert locations.

Elmer Long married in the 1970s and raised two boys and life progressed as normal. He and his wife later moved to the Oro Grande area where he worked at a cement company. 

When his dad died, Elmer was left with his father’s collection. In the year 2000, he decided to display a few of the bottles in honor of his late father and the time they spent together when he was young. 

The Bottle Tree Ranch began with a single “tree”. Elmer welded the tree which consisted of a center shaft which made up the “trunk” of the tree. He then welded the smaller “limbs” to the trunk creating a tree that resembled a coat rack but with multiple branches.

When Elmer Long finished welding that first tree, he hung bottles on each of the branches and topped the tree with an old farming tool that he had collected years ago with his father. He displayed the tree on his property and within hours he noticed a traveler who stopped and photographed the tree. This fueled Elmer’s interest to create more trees as time allowed.

By 2002, at the age of 55, Elmer Long walked into his work at the cement company, turned in his resignation and retired, never looking back. Retirement allowed him to begin building more trees and the rest is history.

While Elmer Long lived in a remote location in the desert, he was located just feet from old Route 66 which has experienced a resurgence of interest and traffic in recent years. The Bottle Tree Ranch was listed as an attraction and travelers began visiting the ranch in droves.

Elmer loved talking to the visitors and became well known to travelers of Route 66. The Bottle Tree Ranch was located at his house and would spend his time visiting with tourists from around the world.

Unfortunately, Elmer Long passed away in June 2019 and the family closed the Ranch for several weeks but vowed to keep the attraction open in the future for visitors to enjoy. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch reopened in September 2019 and has been open since.

We visited the Ranch in 2021 and had a great time walking among the bottle trees and various other items which were attached to the trees or around the grounds.

Breezes help create a melody of tunes as the bottles tingle and clank together bringing music to this out of the way desert setting. When the winds blow, the bottles begin to howl. There is something about slowing down and taking in the colorful sights and sounds of Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch in the Mojave Desert that is very relaxing.

Some may call sites such as this crazy or humorous. Others may love the quirky, whimsical, and eclectic sites. What we have found is when you take time to admire these attractions, it is hard to leave without a smile on your face. Roadside art is just one more reason we love traveling the two-lane back roads of the U.S.

Editor’s note: Longtime Los Alamos photographer Gary Warren and his wife Marilyn are traveling around the country, and he shares his photographs, which appear in the “Posts from the Road” series published in the Sunday edition of the Los Alamos Daily Post.

Have a Seat: Visitors have always been encouraged to stop and stay as long as they wish at Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. However, everything here was collected from the desert so be careful which chair you choose! Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Tree Branches: A closer view of a bottle tree reveals branches of many colors as the sun illuminates each of the bottles. Thousands of bottles are scattered on trees throughout the ranch creating a kaleidoscope of color. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Tree Toppers: Elmer Long would weld a tree topper to each tree. Everything from signs to bed frames and anything imaginable can be seen on the tops of the trees as you look across the ranch. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Green Tree: Several trees at the Bottle Tree Ranch are all a single color as seen with ‘green tree’. The trees are each located in organized rows and placed close together with just enough space for visitors to move about on the ranch. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

Bottle Tree Ranch: As we crossed Route 66 to leave Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, I turned around and took one last photo of this roadside attraction. Signs hang on the fence in front of more than 200 bottle trees. This is not the last time that I will visit this whimsical site in the Mojave Desert. Photo by Gary Warren/ladailypost.com

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