Nestled in a back corner of the Mojave, about 15 minutes outside Victorville, sits an eccentric and creative “bottle tree ranch”. Mere feet from the iconic Route 66 Highway, aka “the Main Street of America” or “the Mother Road”, Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is a sight to behold. You absolutely cannot miss it, even if you had no clue that it was there.
The closest “town” is Oro Grande, which is technically an “unincorporated territory” in San Bernardino County. Fewer than 1,000 people call this place home; although Victorville is only roughly 5 to 10 miles away (depending on which side of Victorville you go to), it is still rather remote. When people think of California, they think of large cities with no boundaries, endlessly bleeding into each other, never knowing when one ends, and another begins. The area in which Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch exists is the exact opposite. It’s basically as remote as it gets for Southern California.
Located at 24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, CA 92368, the hours are basically nonexistent. That’s not to say that you can visit whenever you like – just that it’s impossible to find the correct, current hours. If you Google Elmer’s, multiple sites will tell you all 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 for some reason makes it aggressively 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 visited the ranch and spoke to Elmer himself, says it’s open from “sunrise to sunset”. The ranch’s official website, http://thebottletreeranch.com/, simply says, “Elmers Bottle Tree Ranch is now open! Please continue to observe the social distancing guidelines, stay safe and enjoy your visit!”. All these pages have one thing in common; the ranch is open daily.
I’m not sure what happened, but we stopped by 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 not a soul in sight to unlock it. We were forced to observe the coolness from the outside, and it really was super cool and fun looking, but unfortunately, we couldn’t do more than that. After snapping some pics, we left, and headed to Oro Grande to shop for a while (more on that in a bit).
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 if he was sure because we had literally just come from there, but he insisted it was open. He kept saying “there were a bunch of people out front”. I asked him repeatedly if there were people inside, and I’m not sure if it was a misinterpretation due to both of us wearing masks, or if he was just bs’ing me, but he kept answering “yes”. I wasn’t optimistic because I had a feeling he was wrong, as we had just been there about 30 minutes before and there were people out front, but the gates were firmly locked. As it wasn’t that far, I decided “heck, why not? This is what we came for after all” and we drove back.
The gates were still firmly closed and locked.
The ranch is the brainchild of Elmer Evan Long, who regrettably passed away in June 2019. According to the official website, “He created an amazing place that became a thing of wonder and a destination for people all over the world. His family will do everything in its power to preserve and protect his legacy after his sudden passing. He is greatly missed and will be forever remembered for the love fostered with family, friends and stranger alike brought together by his amazing creations”.
Elmer’s love for antiques and glass bottles began as a child, a hobby and love passed down to him 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. 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 still really was 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 that large. The bottle trees seem endless, and the sheer number makes it all the more beautiful and intriguing.
So, if you’re ever taking a Route 66 tour, or happen to be in this barren, Californian 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 worth the stop if you’re nearby. While getting in seems to be a game of Russian Roulette nowadays, you just might get lucky!
Overall, even though the bottle tree ranch was closed, our trek out to that corner of the Mojave was not a total waste of time. Seeing the ranch from the road was still fun and something cool to marvel at, although it would be disingenuous of me to say that going inside wouldn’t have been better or more worth the drive. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch… “may the odds forever be in your favor”.