Signs and found objects mix with discarded glass bottles.
Signs and found objects mix with discarded glass bottles.

Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch

Field review by the editors.

Oro Grande, California

Elmer Long is an inventive scrap material artist. His front yard is filled with a dense forest of bottle trees. Over 200 trees made from upright metal pipes bristle with discarded glass bottles on every welded branch. Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch is well known due to its location along U.S. Route 66, west of Barstow.

Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch.

Born in 1946, Long moved with his family to the California desert in 1970, where he married, and then raised two sons. Elmer's father had always collected old bottles; Elmer inherited that hoard, and continued to add to it. Trained as a welder, Elmer worked in a cement factory, so he has skills coveted by any scrap artisan. He erected his first bottle tree in 2000. That same day, Elmer noticed Route 66 travelers pulling off along the road to snap photos of his outsider art.

Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch lies conveniently along Route 66.
Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch lies conveniently along Route 66.

Elmer went full-time on bottle forest creation in 2002, and the array increased in density and scale. He lives in the house behind it, and continues adding and modifying, though if you don't see him around you can still wander the site. There's a wooden wishing well in the back for donations.

The bottle tree pipes are tightly arranged, with enough room for visitors to walk between most and admire his handiwork. Some sculptures are decorated with bottles by color, vintage or brand. Most appear to be beer or liquor bottles. A few feature glass and ceramic power pole insulators.

A bomb casing among the bottle trees.
A bomb casing among the bottle trees.

Elmer also incorporates consumer objects -- old metal toys, old radios, wheel rims, manual typewriters, rusting tools and appliances. Some things seem more by design than others. The old jeep with the eaten-away seats... art or utility?

This is an excellent roadside attraction, free and open (as are most folk art environments), and welcoming appreciative eyeballs. The parking area is just the wide unpaved shoulder on both sides of this long bypassed stretch of relatively lightly traveled highway. We parked past the frontage fence to allow unobstructed photos. During our bottle tree ranch experience another dozen travelers arrived, all from outside the U.S. Some had seen it on YouTube.

Bottles flower on welded branches.
Bottles flower on welded branches.

It's an obvious shutterbug and selfie haven. Elmer has sprinkled around old road signs, a peeling A&W restaurant menu board, and various petroliana artifacts. A vintage practice bomb casing is impaled on a pipe -- perhaps a statement on war, or a statement on the availability of ordnance in the flight test-happy high desert.

On a windy day, the bottles emit sounds -- pleasing or eerie, depending on your taste in randomly whistled bottle music. Though we didn't encounter hazards during our visit, keep in mind that bottles occasionally break, and there are many abraded and rusting shin-level gewgaws.

So tread carefully, snap your pictures, and leave a donation!

Elmer Long's Bottle Tree Ranch

Address:
24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande, CA
Directions:
Several miles south of Helendale on the National Trails Hwy. On the north side, at the crest of a little hill. You can see the density of the yard from at least a quarter-mile away.
Hours:
Elmer Long welcomes visitors during the day.
Admission:
Free.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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June 18, 2019

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