Monday, January 18, 2016

Happy Trails in Palm Springs, California

What's your level of experience riding a horse?  That is one of the first questions you're going to hear when the staff at Smoke Tree Stables, in Palm Springs, California, gets ready to match you up with your mount.  You can tell they take it seriously.  They have about 90 horses to choose from, and they want to get it right so that your ride is safe and fun.

It doesn't really matter which you are, there don't seem to be any "unsafe" or "green" horses in the string at Smoke Tree.  They've all been carefully worked into the program.  They assess the rider's height, weight and ability, and then match them to their horse.  No matter what your riding level, they have a horse for you. 

They also outfit you with a saddle bag and as much water from their fridge as you'd like to take along for the ride.

And, of course, hats or helmets.  You choose.  My husband chose a hat. (You can see he was pretty happy with it, below)  I travel with my own hat.

My hubby got partnered with Frankie, the big palomino, and I got sweet, sweet Dusty, the little palomino that I wanted to take home with me after our day together. Oh, Dusty, how I love thee.  I got Dusty to turn and acknowledge me on both sides after I mounted up.  He had a big, kind eye and curious nature.

I wasn't used to the saddle; mine is a bit cushier.  But the stirrup length was perfect.

Both the horses were sure-footed--able to walk up and down more rock than I've ever ventured over with my own horses.  One of the hikers even commented that she wondered how horses got over those rocks, but once she watched us, she found out.  I was impressed. 

Our guide was called Buck.  I think it's better to have a guide called Buck than a horse called Buck, don't you?  He was great.  A real cowboy, and a wonderful guide.  He was able to tell us a lot about the area.  We got him on his last weekend there.  Buck is heading to the Grand Canyon to work, but apparently, it'll be with mules.

We trailered the horses about five minutes away from the stables into the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation.   The Agua Caliente is owned by the Cahuilla tribe and was founded in 1896.  It's 31,610 acres, 6,700 acres of which is in the Palm Springs city limits. We rode through the Indian Canyons portion.

"This is a place of contrasts;
It is a place of ancient and new,
A place of peace and turbulence,
It is a place of power.
 Come with the right purpose and a clear mind
To enjoy its beauty and mystery."

There were times, during the ride, where I closed my eyes and tried to get a feel for the area with my other senses.  It was magical.  I thought of how I wanted to take that feeling with me forever, and I hoped that I could.

The mountains in the background, I believe, are the Santa Rosa and possibly also the San Jacinto (below).  You can even see part of the Pacific Coast Trail where there is snow.

Looking toward Palm Springs.

 We saw the creosote bush. (photo credit

Desert lavender. (Photo Credit

And, the Smoke Tree, which used to be all over the place (thus, the name of the stables), but now are scarce. (Photo Credit:

 They say that Pride Rock from The Lion King was inspired here.

And, Cary Grant came to ride at Smoke Tree Stables.  Our guide, Buck, said in the old days, they'd let you rent horses and go out without guides, but times have changed.

Our ride was 3 hours, but I was wishing I had booked it for the whole day.  Buck said the guides love to go on the day rides, but people rarely do them anymore.  I would highly recommend, if you're going to Palm Springs, to take the day trail ride--and, at the very least--the 3 hour ride.  It was my most memorable moment in Palm Springs, bar none.

I hope that Smoke Tree Stables, and others like them, are open for a long time. They provide a rare and priceless experience.  I have my own horses, and beautiful trails, but I doubt I'll ever trailer my horses that far.  I felt so grateful to experience the desert, Agua Caliente, on the back of little Dusty.

I think I'm addicted to riding horses wherever I travel.


  1. Pretty Palominos. And a unique setting too.

    1. There were so many horses, but they chose the palominos for us. I don't have a color preference, but I was really impressed with Dusty's kind eyes and willingness to interact with me. The setting was amazing. We hiked Indian Canyons last year--the same exact area--but we saw more and experienced way more on horseback.

  2. What a great experience for the 2 of you!

    1. It will be one of those we remember FOREVER!!

  3. What a wonderful ride! We love riding on vacation. Palm Springs was always too close to consider "vacation" and I didn't know about this place when we lived in SoCal -- looks like a great place to go and a very interesting ride.

    1. We're heading to Hawaii in March, and I'm going to try to ride horses there. In fact, I need to book that ride. We're going to Kona, and they say you need to reserve your spot 3 weeks in advance.

  4. We own horses of our own, but when we travel without them, we almost always look for a riding livery to rent from.

    Things just look better from the back of a horse.


    1. Yes, they do. I don't know what it is, but it makes a huge difference. We hiked that area before, but it was nothing like seeing on horseback.

  5. What a great place to ride and experience the beautiful scenery. It's something you just can't get from the seat of a car.

    1. Absolutely not...and I'd say neither on foot. I don't know what it is horses add, but they add something. Maybe it's that the free you to look around because they're doing the hard work?

  6. What a wonderful horse experience. The view looks amazing too.

    1. It was amazing. Unfortunately, the pictures don't completely capture it, but I tried my best to get a variety of them.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.