“Bottle Tree Ranch” is an obscure open-air art gallery created by artist Elmer Long. This whimsical roadside attraction, featuring a massive collection of thousands of colored glass bottles, is located on historic U.S. Route 66, in Oro Grande, California.
Elmer Long created his first bottle tree in 2000, but his incredible collection of bottles goes back a lot further in 1952-53. The artist began collecting random glass bottles as a child while camping in the desert with his father. “I’m a collector. Now If you go back a few years… Go back to 1952, at six-years-old, 1st grade, Manhattan Beach. That night we went camping. Since then, we camped for years and years, middle of the desert camping.” Scouring the desert with his father, they came across stuff that they thought was priceless. “I found a bottle one day, and since then I never stopped collecting.”
Every time the artist is asked about what does the “Bottle Tree Ranch” mean to him, he instinctively replies: “It’s a pipe loaded with memories. You see some and say ‘that’s cool,’ I see some and say ‘I was 8 or 9 years-old when I picked it off the ground.” Elmer still recalls people’s reaction to his first metal pipe with bottles hanging from it, saying that drivers were so impressed by his creation that they immediately pulled over to photograph it.
A “forest” of now over 200 bottle trees, and other treasures such as signs, gas pumps, and cars, is open from sunrise to sunset in the heart of the California desert. Admission is free, although visitors’ donations are appreciated. And if you are lucky enough you might get the chance to chat with the sophisticated bearded man who started it all.