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Exploring the Wonders of Smoke Tree Stables

Smoke Tree Stables is family owned and operated, and has been since 1927. It’s located in South Palm Springs at the base of Smoke Tree Mountain.

smoke tree stables logo

A Brief History

Smoke Tree Stables is one of Palm Spring’s earliest stables. In the 1930’s, Fred and Maziebelle Markham purchased 400 acres and transformed it into Smoke Tree Ranch. It was western theme and envisioned was a place free from pressures where families could come and enjoy the desert. No effort was made to impress. Promptly at 6:30 p.m. dinner was served family-style at long, bare-topped wooden tables. Branded clothespins served a triple purpose — napkin holder, place card, and hash mark record of prior visits (quite a status symbol). Alphabetically filed pins, awaiting the returning guests, lined the dining room walls.

smoke tree ranch Horseback-riding

Walt Disney would eventually own a home in Smoke Tree Ranch.

Walt_Disney_Palm_Springs_Home_on_Smoke_Tree_Ranch

Of the approximately 400 acres of Ranch land, 300+ acres are reserved for the Colony (what they called the homeowners) and 20 acres for the Guest Ranch. A part of the remaining acreage, acting as a buffer strip along East Palm Canyon Drive, is leased for the Smoke Tree Village and Smoke Tree Commons shopping centers. At the opposite end of the Ranch, land is leased for the Smoke Tree Stables.

Meet Stacy Johnson, Keeper of Smoke Tree Stables

“Horses tend to mirror our own behaviors,” explains Stacey Johnson, proprietor of Smoke Tree Stables. “So people get to experience their behaviors in real time. And it also offers them an opportunity to sort of reflect and then maybe make some adjustments that they’re noticing while working with the horses.”

Horseback riding is synonymous with wellness. In addition to encouraging physical activity, equestrianism helps people commune with nature courtesy of their hoofed chauffeur. Palm Springs is also indelibly linked with a quest for health and happiness. It has been a wellness retreat for centuries, and Smoke Tree Stables has been a big part of our healing history.

smoke tree stables credit Olivier Mastey
Credit: Olivier Mastey

“The Stables is one of the oldest businesses in the city of Palm Springs,” declares Johnson, adding that the organization “has been around since 1927. My husband’s family has owned the business since the 1940s, and it’s been in our family ever since. So there’s such a long history of that sort of Western way of life in Palm Springs. And then, being lucky enough to have a family owned business that’s been able to weather all of the storms and stay in business in the city is just phenomenal. We see generation after generation of people who come to visit and then bring their children and then bring their grandchildren. It’s pretty fantastic.”

smoke tree stables sign

And they relay that sense of the fantastic onto their grateful guests.

Murray Canyon Haul Ride

“We have a couple of different programs for the general public. Our most popular ride is our Murray Canyon haul ride, and that’s h-a-u-l. And that’s where we trailer the horses up into the Andreas Canyon.  It part of the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons. Most of Murray Canyon is only accessible by foot or horse. We ride from Andreas Canyon up over Murray Peak and drop back down into the canyons. So in terms of scenery, it’s spectacular. They ride through native palm groves. They ride through and along streambeds. The ride itself is about an hour and 40 minutes.”

According to Johnson, that duration includes a generous portion of instruction.

smoke tree stable indian canyons

All Skill Levels Welcome

“In terms of skill level, you don’t need any experience to do it. And the entire time is spent in such a scenic environment that the customers just absolutely love it.”

Love is the compass that guides Smoke Tree Stables. “Ours is a very hands-on program. We offer both equine facilitated psychotherapy and equine growth and learning.”

Johnson beams as she elaborates, “Equine therapy is such a spectacular, incredible program. We work in different ways. So we work with a lot of inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facilities throughout Coachella Valley. We work with children in the foster care system in group homes primarily. And then we have wonderful programs for the general public. During COVID, I had so many requests that I started up a public group, and that’s every Sunday, and anybody can join. It’s more of an equine growth and learning program.”

smoke tree stables andreas canyon

“Frankly, for me, it was a really nice time to reflect and also make some changes to our business model, which I think has been incredibly helpful. Sad as it was, and it has been, and it’s unfortunately still ongoing, I feel very fortunate that we’re able to offer the services that we are, that people are still able to come out and ride and feel safe because they’re outdoors. And horseback riding is naturally a socially distant activity.

Although Johnson is hyper-focused on the wellbeing of her team (both horses and humans), she has also found serenity on a personal level. “I was outside walking and riding my horses every day.  Palm Springs has a very different vibe than living in a larger city and being able to be outdoors, which this climate affords all of us, has been such an amazing gift.”

Approaching the finish line, Johnson concludes, “I’m always grateful to live here. I feel like we have an amazing sense of community.”

smoke tree stables horses

Smoke Tree Stables

2500 S. Toledo Ave., Palm Springs, CA 92264 –  760-327-1372

By Kevin Perry

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