Route 66 News

A history of bottle trees

I thought the dozens of bottle trees erected by Elmer Long along Route 66 in Oro Grande, Calif., were a one-of-a-kind.

But apparently not, according to an article by Virginia Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Bottle trees are a long-standing Southern thing, embedded in the life tapestries of African Americans, especially in the Mississippi Delta. Traditionally, live or dead crape myrtle and cedar trees were decorated with bottles – often blue Milk of Magnesia ones – intended to trap evil spirits and prevent them from entering the house.

In recent decades, however, bottle trees have been popping up around the country as decorative items. Most now are made of metal instead of wood.

That includes the many creations in Long’s Bottletree Ranch:

Elmer Long calls himself “the bottle tree man,” too, and he likely holds the record for sheer numbers of trees. He says he has more than 400 on his bottle-tree ranch, on Route 66 in Oro Grande, Calif., in the Mojave Desert. Long says he gets more than 200 visitors a day in spring and summer, including motorcycle clubs, artists, photographers, professors, and busloads of tourists. He scavenges through old, unofficial trash dumps in the desert for bottles, often adding funky items such as parking meters and wagon wheels to the unusual “trees” on his 2.4-acre property. Long has been making bottle trees since 2002, when he retired, after 31 years, from his job at a cement factory. “I think about bottle trees 24/7. It’s crazy,” he says.

Here are dozens of photos of Long’s property on Flickr. And here’s a great video about him and his ranch:

If I had to make a short list of must-see attractions on Route 66, Elmer Long’s Bottletree Ranch would be way up there.