The portion of Route 66 between Oro Grande and Kingman is a busy little piece of roadway with lots to explore: cafes, trains, cemeteries, ghost towns… and one interesting work of art that is found nestled between Turner Road and Citation Street in Oro Grande: it’s called the Bottle Tree Ranch. The “Ranch” was started by Elmer Long in 2000 and incorporates things that he gathered and collected throughout his life.
Bottle trees are not new to the world. This is an old African tradition that was introduced to the Southern U.S. when slaves were brought over in the 1700s. Essentially, trees or posts are built over graves and shiny objects are added to these trees/posts to ward off evil spirits or to trap them. In the U.S., people build bottle trees less for spiritualistic reasons and more for their folk art appeal.
The thing I love about folk art is that each piece is an extension of the artist’s personality; and, in this case, you can feel Elmer’s personality the moment you step into his garden. He’s the king of lost things… and lost things are interesting… they tell the history and radiate stories. This Bottle Tree Ranch represents the memories and stories that are inside Elmer.
Each of the trees consists of a metal base with branches, bottles or some other glass item, and a “topper,” which has a story that is important to Elmer. There’s an old muffler he found along Route 66, old street signs, military collectables from his time in the service, a horse… all have some sort of connection back to Elmer’s history and his life as a collector.
The fact that the Bottle Tree is on Route 66 is rather accidental. He never set out to purchase land on the route, rather he got a job at a nearby cement factory and saved enough money to buy up local land. The roadside attraction is coincidental. The first bottle tree went up in 2000 and people immediately started taking pictures of it.
The Bottle Ranch is a well listed Route 66 roadside attraction and people from all over the world stop to snap pictures and shoot video. The gate is always open. Elmer’s philosophy is that if people can travel all the way from Australia, China, Europe, and elsewhere to see his collection, then he can keep his doors open for them to visit.