Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch – A Sight to Behold off Historic Route 66 in Southern California

In the middle of the Southern California desert, somewhere off historic Route 66, there are two hundred outdoor art installations primarily created out of colorful glass bottles. This collection belongs to a man named Elmer Long. As a child, Elmer and his father routinely combed the surrounding area together, collecting any and everything from bottles to road signs.

After Elmer’s father passed, he wasn’t sure what to do with the collection of oddities. In 2000, he decided to create Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch in homage to his late father. The forest-like sight consists of welded metal with “branches” jutting from their posts, similar to coat racks. Various objects sit atop the bottle structures. Stoplights to windmills to railroad crossing signs act as proverbial apexes on a Christmas tree.

Railroad Crossing + Sunshine at Elmer's Bottletree Ranch
Railroad Crossing + Sunshine at Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch

I arrived on a hot, Summer Saturday early afternoon in August. It was easy to spend a good couple of hours perusing the ranch. Bayonets, antique typewriters, and glass bottles abound! There was even a bottle of Jack Daniel’s whiskey with a small swig left at the bottom. Tempting as I realized the nearly hundred-degree desert sunshine was rendering me dehydrated.

Flooding and Antique Typewriters at Elmer's Bottletree Ranch
Flooding and Antique Typewriters at Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch

A Desert Oasis

I made my way to shade at an old four piece, rusted outdoor dining set near the entrance. Here, I marveled at the half a dozen hummingbirds busily flapping their wings around the many feeders adorning some of the bottletrees. The buzzing sound of their wings was a welcome accompaniment to the rustling tree leaves and hanging copper wind chimes.

Sitting in the Shade at Elmer's Bottletree Ranch
Sitting in the Shade at Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch
Elmer's Bottletree Ranch in Oro Grande, California, Route 66
One of the many hummingbird feeders w/ glass bottles and old vehicle in the background

I admired Elmer’s tribute to his passing father as tourists from all over the world excitedly snapped photos. Offering to take a photo of a Spanish family, the sunshine shot beams of colorful rays across the backdrop of their frame.

“Listos?” I asked. Were they ready? One tourist exclaimed, “Whiskey!” as I snapped the photo from his iPhone. I laughed, pleasantly surprised at the fervor clearly being exhibited for this off the beaten path attraction.

“Gracias,” they thanked me.

“De nada.” My heart was warm – and not just from the summer heat.

Treasure at Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch

Elmer’s Bottletree Ranch brought a whole new meaning to that familiar idiom, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I quietly pondered what tangible sort of creation could have come in honor of my own father’s passing – or mother’s for that reason! My dad collected baseball cards and records. My mother loved sea glass but certainly hadn’t collected enough to create a ranch.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

To continue a family tradition in the midst of great loss and share it with the public is a beautiful way of preserving someone’s life in essence. I couldn’t help but feel that the Universe wanted me there, in that moment, at that time. I was hoping to meet Mr. Elmer Long during my visit. Alas, he wasn’t present. I intend on returning to his ranch in the near future. I’m certain and eager to discover a treasure or two that I missed while kicking up dust between corroded vehicles and wire sculptures in the shape of cowboys.


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