Bottle Tree Ranch and a Day in the Mojave

Genie Davis April 6, 2013 No Comments


Less than two hours from Los Angeles and a world away, kids of all ages and their parents will love the sparkling multi-colored forest awaiting them just off Route 66 near Victorville. This is a great stop on a drive heading in or out of Las Vegas, but it makes a wonderful day trip.

That would be Elmer Long’s amazing art installation – Bottle Tree Ranch. He created this folk art masterpiece from hundreds of empty bottles found in the desert that he inherited from his late father. Not wanting to discard the collection, he began to utilize it, by turning it into the leaves on “trees” created from recycled scrap metal poles, railroad ties and more.

Bottle Tree Ranch

Kids will be enchanted and adults will love the artistry of Bottle Tree Ranch just off Rte. 66 in the Mojave

Usually on site, Elmer is friendly to a fault, and took us on a tour of his forest of folk art, pointing out his most recent pieces and explaining the elements that went into its creation. Along with the bottle trees, you’ll find quirky trinkets and toys and signs throughout; 1950′s era upbeat rock and roll plays on speakers, and Elmer offers water to visitors parched in the desert heat. At two acres plus, Elmer’s ranch includes his workshop, where he’s happy to smooth out pieces of colored glass and give them to kids who request them.

We easily spent over an hour strolling among the bottle trees, sunlight making rainbows through this magical world. Along with the bottles, kids will love playing a game of “I Spy” for a merry-go-round horse, old rifles, even a traffic signal. From sun bleached bones to a model train that was once Elmer’s as a child, Elmer finds castaway objects and creates a home for them. His elaborate creation is reminiscent of the elaborate sculptures of Watts Towers in LA or the whimsical architecture of Nit Wit Ridge in Cambria – hit all three to thoroughly show your child folk art at its finest.

Unlike the itinerant creators of these other artistic finds, Elmer was an aviation engineer and his attention to detail and planning gleaned from his long career shows. He shared his love of the desert with his dad who started his collection by cleaning man made trash from the desert he cherished. Although thousands of visitors a year show up, when we were there about ten others shared the charming space, allowing us plenty of leisure to chat with this awesome artist and let the kids wander the roadside attraction.

Planes in Mojave

On the way back from Bottle Tree, we swung a half hour out of our way to the town of Mojave and the Mojave Airport, to take a van tour of the facility where space rockets are now being built and derelict aircraft are used for film and television shoots before being sold, piece by piece, or destined for the scrap heap. We’ve long seen the planes from the road on our way to Death Valley or Bakersfield, the plane parking lot is sometimes crowded with aircraft, other times less busy.

Mojave California Airport

Tour the planes and watch small craft land at Mojave airport

This trip it was at about medium capacity, and the short tour is well worth the time. It’s sad but wonderful to see some of these planes, with logos and colors long forgotten or faded in the desert sun. Security reasons forbid the taking of photos on this forty minute tour, but the vision of these aircraft stoically awaiting their fate will stay with you nonetheless. The current Mojave Air and Space Port site says tours are only available on “Plane Crazy Saturdays” at present, so be sure and check before you go. When we went this summer, tours were daily except Sunday at 3 pm and the price was a reasonable $8 per person, with small children free.

By now you must be hungry, and the place for a generous breakfast or lunch is right there at the airport, where you can sit in a booth and watch small planes soar in and out of the airport. The Voyager restaurant has great views and a menu that’s flight-inspired. We enjoyed an order of “The Hangar Queen”omelet and “Joudis Crash Landing,” a poached egg take on Huevos Rancheros.

Vasquez Rocks

Cruising on down Highway 14 back into the LA basin, be sure to add in a stop at nature’s own Star Trek set, Vasquez Rocks, just outside of Santa Clarita. These red rocks are easy to access and climb, even for small children – parents, hold their hands – with simple sandy trails to stretch everyone’s legs before hitting the traffic jam back into LA proper. These stunning, other-wordly rock formations were created from San Andreas Fault action, and are named for Tiburcio Vásquez, a California bandits, who hid out among them to avoid capture for his crimes.

Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez Rocks are highway close and easy to climb.

We love strolling up the ribbed rock face of an angular horizontal rock offering a gaze across the desert at cacti and Joshua Trees and the highway beyond. Kids feel like they’re climbing a great distance, when actually it’s an easy, long rock ramp up from the sandy parking lot. Nature trails are flat, simple loops which will take you close to those cacti and other desert growth.

Bottle Trees, derelict planes, and a bandit’s outer-space-worthy rock hideout – a pretty cool day trip for everyone in the family.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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