Editor’s note: Today we continue Al Morrissette’s exquisite Route 66 Series, a great read for all of us who love the High Desert and its rich heritage. To read Mr. Morrissette’s first part Click here.
By Al Morrissette,
Guest Sunday Column
(Victor Vallley)– In 1954 Miles Mahan bought a plot of land along Route 66 in Hesperia. Recently off the road from a career as a “Guess your weight” carnival roadie, Mahan retired to his oasis which featured a large Joshua tree and a small trailer.
Mahan spent his days roaming the desert landscape searching for items of interest that travelers, settlers and time left behind. On one such excursion he found a large “Hula Girl” by a closed Hawaiian restaurant. She became the center of his collection and her 12-ft tall stature was mounted on a long pole and towered over Mahan’s collection of artifacts.
Soon travelers stopped to see the Hula Girl and Mahan realized he had developed a roadside attraction that he named Mahan’s Half Acre, but better known as Hulaville. Mahan’s personality was vibrant and joyful and his mind was filled with poetry that he transformed onto dried wooden cast off pieces strategically places amongst the artifacts.
Not sure if Mahan was copying the southern African-American culture of building bottle trees in their yard to capture evil spirits, Mahan’s bottle trees were colorful and seemed to bring excitement to the half acre museum and art display. If you followed your way around, you were led to a very miniature 9-hole golf course that instead of hole you had poles. He used poles because he didn’t want people to be bothered stooping too far down.
Up until his health put him into a convalescent hospital in 1995 (at age of 98), Mahan never charged a fee and gave personal tours. He did ask if you would be interested in buying one of his poetry books and in his last years his eyesight was mostly gone so he would request if you would read a few to him.
One such poem was titled Hulaville: Yea so welcome are all of thee / To this museum so full with glee / Here are a host of signs you may see / So cleverly painted by old Mile-zee/ And so this dream will always be / A haven of peace for you and me / From a tired world you’ll be free / To behold bottles before you flee.
Though Mahan has passed to his maker, his Hulaville legacy is fondly remembered in 2 locations along Route 66. The original Hula Girl and many of the artifacts are properly preserved at the California Route 66 Museum at 16825 D Street in Victorville. They have also created a miniature model of Hulaville so visitors could get the concept.
Another monument to Mahan is the emulation of his bottle tree concept at the Bottle Tree Ranch located at 24266 National Trails Highway in Oro Grand. Elmer and Linda Long purchased the property in 2000 and Elmer felt the inspiration to build a bottle tree using some of the bottles from his inherited bottle collection of his fathers. Elmer was born in Maine but his family moved to Manhattan Beach, California and his youthful years were spent exploring the beach and on long trips to the desert with his family.
His father was an avid collector of bottles and rocks, plus other items of interest found in the desert, so it is only natural that Elmer maintained the same interest. He blends his findings into art sculptures that are his bottle trees. With over 300 trees visible from the highway he receives many worldwide visitors that are searching for their own Route 66 experience and memory. With an average of 150 bottles per tree it didn’t take long for Elmer to use all of his father’s collection, thus Elmer fulfills his bottle needs by hunting through abandoned dumpsites and along desert roadways. He builds each tree with a theme topper that could be a working parking meter, a sun bleached steer skull, a rusted hammerless revolver or any other artifact.
Like Mahan, Elmer will take time to give you a personal tour and when you meet him you will catch his excitement of the colorful garden of bottled sculptures.