Nestled in a back corner of the Mojave Desert in Southern California, sits the eccentric and creative Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Only mere feet from the iconic Route 66, it’s an interesting place. The closest “town” is Oro Grande approximately 10 minutes away, which is technically an “unincorporated territory” within San Bernardino County. The closest large city is Victorville, approximately 15-20 minutes away. The ranch is a sight to behold in the middle of nowhere and – you cannot miss it – even if you had no clue that it was even there.
Located at 24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, the hours are essentially nonexistent. If you Google “Elmer’s”, multiple sites will list different times. Yelp says the ranch is open from 12pm to 11:30pm. Google Reviews claims it’s open from 7am to 6pm. The Facebook page (which makes it VERY clear that the page is NOT managed by the ranch), says, “The Bottle Tree Ranch does not have official hours, but if you stop by in the daytime on a weekday or weekend, the gates will probably be open…”. The blogger “California Through My Lens”, who spoke to Elmer himself when visiting, says it’s open from “sunrise to sunset”. All these pages have one thing in common – the ranch is open daily.
We came to visit on a Sunday, at 12:30pm, and it was NOT open. There was a large padlock with a thick chain firmly linked and locked on the front gate, and nobody around to unlock it. We were forced to observe the ranch from the outside, and it truly looked super cool and fun. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do more than look from afar. After snapping some pics, we left, and headed to Oro Grande to shop.
Around 1:30pm, we headed back to the ranch because a man at one of the shops overheard my conversation with the shop owner regarding the ranch. He told me they had just passed the ranch and it was open. I asked him, “are you sure?”, since we had just come from there moments before. He insisted it was open, repeating that “there were a bunch of people out front”. I asked him a few times if the people were inside and he’d answer “yes”. I was unsure if this was a misinterpretation due to wearing masks, or if he really saw people inside, but I wasn’t optimistic. We had just been there about 30 minutes prior, there were people out front, but the gates were firmly locked. However, it wasn’t far, so we drove back.
The gates were still firmly closed and locked. 🥴
The ranch is the brainchild of Elmer Evan Long, who’s love for antiques and glass bottles began as a child, a hobby passed down by his father. He spent countless hours combing the desert with his father, looking for anything cool, quirky, interesting, or unique to take home. After his father passed, Elmer was left with his immense collection of antiques, oddities, and bottles, and no idea what to do with it all. So, in 2000, he created his first bottle tree, and the rest is history.
Although we unfortunately could not go in and walk amongst the bottle trees, it was still a sight to behold. When I looked at pictures online, I figured deceptive camera angles showed it bigger than it was. I (wrongly) assumed it was just a handful of bottle trees and other antiques and would not be that impressive (perhaps Noah Purifoy jaded me…). However, as soon as we arrived, I quickly saw that I was very wrong. It’s much larger than I thought, although not massive. The bottle trees seem endless at certain angles, the sheer number making it all the more beautiful and intriguing.
Overall, if you’re ever taking a Route 66 tour, or happen to be in this barren, Californian desert neck of the woods, please don’t hesitate to stop by Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch! The gates might not be unlocked and open, but it’s still firmly worth the stop if you’re nearby 🙃. While getting in seems to be a game of Russian Roulette nowadays since Elmer has sadly passed away, you just might get lucky.