Nestled in a back corner of the Mojave Desert in Southern California, sits an eccentric and creative “ranch”. Only mere feet from the iconic Route 66, aka “the Main Street of America”, Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is an interesting place. The closest “town” is Oro Grande, which is technically an “unincorporated territory” in San Bernardino County, and it’s approximately 15-20 minutes from Victorville. The ranch is a sight to behold – you cannot miss it, even if you had no clue that it was there.
Located at 24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, the hours are basically nonexistent – as in, it’s impossible to find the correct, current hours. If you Google Elmer’s, multiple sites will all tell you 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.
We tried 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 coolness from the outside, and it truly looked super cool and fun looking. 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?”, because we had literally just come from there. He insisted it was open and kept saying “there were a bunch of people out front”. I asked him a few times if the people were inside and he kept answering “yes”. I wasn’t sure if it was a misinterpretation due to both of us wearing masks, or if he really thought he saw people inside, but I wasn’t optimistic. We had just been there about 30 minutes before, there were people out front, but the gates were firmly locked. But, it wasn’t far, so I decided “heck, why not?” and we drove back.
The gates were still firmly closed and locked. 🥴
The ranch is the brainchild of Elmer Evan Long. His 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.
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 now that Elmer has passed away, you just might get lucky!
“May the odds forever be in your favor.” ✊🏼